Saturday, October 27, 2018

Rafina River: Environmental education hotspot in Athens

Part of the Rafina High School Environmental Education group, one of their teachers and Yours (R)

October, 27th 2018. Rafina River. 25 Km East of Athens.

I spend a lot of time out-doors and sometimes its nice to do this with friends, family and students. The Rafina High-School has an ambitious new project to study the river and to explore ways to make society care about it. Today I worked with the students: Themistocles, Mariana, Lambrini, Georgia, Tasos and Filippa. I tried to make a lesson out of it with the help of local teachers and the guidance of naturalist-biologist local river expert, Antonis Lazaris. You can learn so much with Antonis! So the sun was shining, the waters were cool and clear- it was a little piece of heaven. Nothing less. 

I'll try to do this soon again. 

Its usually the teacher's fault! Mr. Antonis Lazaris, high school biology TEACHER extraordinaire! 
On the sandbar at the river-mouth. 
Antonis told me that the kids need to "get in the water"...Here we watched a school of fish, learned about algae (filamentous and Enteromorpha), saw herons foot-prints, darters & damselflies ("livelloules"), mudflat patterns, Salicornia shrublets, little egrets ("Lefkotsikniades"). And we also talked about Zen Buddism.  

Team walking above the busy Rafina bridge. yes...its Wilderness inside the city!

A bank of Arundo donax reed-cane (L) and...a beautiful date palm reminds us we are in the Mediterranean for sure! What a luxurious "archontiko" place inside the city. Should this not be highlighted as a life-line for recreation?

Antonis spotted some ducks, then we identified wagtails and other birds, later someone saw a mouse. We talked about habitat diversity, shelter and cover for aquatic life. Cattail reeds ("Psathia") and their wind-dispersal. We found a Tettigonid cricket! Wild things were happening!

Most of it was "clean waters" at least on this day. Some point-source pollution flows in through gutters-pipes though ...(so it is periodicially polluted). 

Concrete bank near point-source pollution inflow. So sooooo different then the natural bank and natural riparian "buffer zone". But soon downstream the river self-heals. 

Upside-down binoculars function as a microscope! Many plants on the rich riparian zone: Castor Oil Plants, Solanum, Oxalis ("Ksinithra"), first-flowers of Sinapis ("Vrouves"). 

Frog! A small one, hiding in the algae.... There were 3 or four others too. Water is already quite cold for them...(all will soon settle for the short winter).

Upstream of the upper footbridge. Arundo donax thicket. for elephants! ...Nowadays here dwells the Black-Crownend Night Heron ("Nychtokorakas") - we saw one.

Re-discovery the huge chaste tree bush (Ligaria): one of the few native species in the river's riparian zone. Smells so distinctive...

What is it?

A special kind of algae, a Charophyte! Rare.

Walking back. We explored from 10:30 to 1:30...Non-stop and totally enthused. 

Lost world, threatened landscape.... from the busy bridge. Why don't more people care? 
A a final reminder. The river and Rafina in the 1950s. (Photo from an the archive of the Doctor, Stathis Dimitrakos). 

Friday, October 19, 2018

San Sebastian Spain ESP meeting 2018

Ecosystems Services Partnership, Sept. 15th to 19th 2018
San Sebastian, Spain

Greek colleagues and myself descended on the Euro-culinary hotspot known as San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) - just 20 or so Kms from the French frontier in Spain's Basque Country.

Sharing some photos here so you get the feel for a fairly large meeting of scientists and practitioners in one of the top-notch groups doing globally important Ecosystems Services work, the ESP.

More about the conference

Muchas Gracias!

World-renowned marine biologist, Angel Borja, one of the local hosts of the meeting.
The taxonomic composition of the conference, by Prof. Rudolf de Groot. Many Spanish, Germans, French, Portuguese, Italians, British, Dutch. Over 50 countries. And we met our first Makedonians too. (Sadly very few Turkish delegates).

Excellent performance by Keynote Prof. Benjamin Burkhardt. Benjamin, a remarkable German geographer does a really great job and is an inspiration. 
Top-notch keynote speach by Prof. Vallia Drakou. 
The amazing KURSAAL conference building on San Sebastian's foreshore. Architect: Moneo (look it up).

With Ecuadorian colleague, Jose Caseres-Andrade, at his poster.
Vasso with Colombian colleague, Myriam Sanchez Mejia, at her poster.
Ioannis Kokkoris with ES mapping poster on the Lake Stymphalia case-study.

Vasso's talk on Cultural Ecosystem Services in Greece's protected areas.

The amazing beach of Zuriolla.
Cliffs and breakers beyond Zuriolla.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.
Pre-industrial monument: water mill: Vasso is talking with our friend Suili Xiao.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park, Robin. Generally the wet secondary forests and abandonment around the hills produced very few birds. 

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park: the old restored farm house.

Field trip to Gaintza winery. The local wine is a white called Txakoli. It is terrible but drinkable when really cold.
Getaria village, near the winery. Known as home of Juan Sebastian Elcan, a seaman in Magellen's trip - first man to circumnavigate the Earth.
Txakoli wine was sour, fizzy and went down easy. Dizzy dizzy. 

With ESP friends Martine, Bart and Stephanos. Martine van Weelden organizes such ESP meetings with great success!

Dr. Sjerp de Vries, one of the very few psychologists doing work on Ecosystem Services. Wonderful session at this meeting.

The much awaited book on the biodiversity-health relations - soon to be free on-line in early '19. (Look for it at:

One of the PhD student's slides- excellent work.
Vasso, Yours, Panayotis, Ioannis P. Kokkoris: Dream team!
Some kind of traditional bask rowing or whaling sport in the Atlantic waves.
The fantastic waters of the Basque coast. This on a sea-wall walk around San Sebastian.

On San Sebastian's sea-wall walk: the young man on the right is physicist Charis a new PhD student of Vallia Drakou. 
Mediterranean Yellow-legged Gull, I think. (Mixted up taxonomy for many gulls and this area could be a hybrid zone).

Prof Panayotis Dimopoulos who heads the most productive Greek ES team.
The Arundo donax reed canes on the slope above our hotel. Note that here the invasion is totally outside of riparian zones, quite fascinating for us Easterners. Also in many vacant lots and also on this slope was Tripidium ravennae (Ravennagrass, something also from the East that looks like Pampas Grass). 
Our hotel: Recommended due to location - on the beach, next to the hill and sea cliffs.

Typical surf city scene. 
Thanks to the Basque Country!