Sunday, March 12, 2023

Fifteen Places to Go Birding Before You Die: In Greece...


Fifteen Places to Go Birding Before You Die: In Greece!

This is on a whim, so here goes!!
Greece is conviniently divided into north and south; two countries really, one is Balkan, the other Mediterranean. 

The list: 

North (N)

1. Evros Delta and surroundings. 2. Dadia National Park and along the river and surroundings. 3. Vistonis and surroundings including the Kompsatos Gorge. 4. Central Rhodope Mountains. 5. Kerkini and Belles Mountain forests. 6. Thermaikos Gulf Wetlands. 7. Lake Volvi. 8. Prespa. 9. Northern Pindos. 10. Kalamas Delta and Kalamas valley. 11. Corfu. 12 Amvrakikos. 13. Olympus and surroundings, including Tempe and Pinos Delta area. 14. Lake Karla. 15. Lesvos.

South (S)

1. Southern Amvrakikos, incl. Northern Lefkada. 2. Arakinthos, Lakes, Klisoura Gorge. 3. Messolonghi. 4. Strophilia-Kotychi. 5. Pylos. 6. Spercheios Delta. 7. Oiti. 8. Parnassus. 9. Lakes Yliki-Paralimni. 10. Schinias -Marathon Lake and surroundings. 11. Skyros. 12. Samos. 13. Rethymnon area. 14. Chania area. 15. Antikythira.

The background map is from eBird, 12.03.2023

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Exhibition: A walk-in map of water in the city of Athens (Goethe-Institut Athens)



A walk-in map of the points of water in Athens. 
Goethe-Institut Athens

Duration of exhibition: 6 April 2023

The Goethe-Instituts in the Mediterranean have joined forces to develop a series of digital maps on water as a valuable natural resource in the Mediterranean region.

In this context, artists and creators in collaboration with scientists undertook to design interactive maps through which a polyphonic collection of new perspectives and narratives about our relationship with the element of water emerges.

For the digital map concerning Greece, the local partners of the project - the collaborative-interdisciplinary design team Commonspace and the assistance of Stamatis Zogaris - a focus on the city of Athens. Nikos Providakis and other naturalists also helped with video work. Commonspace is a collaborative - interdisciplinary planning design group that has been operating since 2012. It provides services in the fields of Spatial Strategies, Architecture, Social Research, Urban and Environmental Design and Participatory Planning. It seeks to be a link between citizens, social institutions and public authorities, a hub for the exchange of knowledge, ideas and practices between citizens, experts and decision-makers.

Their research into urban space and the biodiversity of the city's scarce water elements come together at the Goethe-Institut Athen to create an installation that gives the capital's public access to a so far “unseen” map of water.

The exhibit is designed by the Athenian architect Eleni Spyridakis, the interactive map of Athens comes to life in the space of the Goethe-Institut Athen, where it is hosted. Furthermore, a reading corner in the institute is dedicated to the library's titles on water as a natural resource. The website and online maps are designed by nature interpretation expert Aris Vidalis.

Opening hours: Monday - Thursday 09:00 - 22:00, Friday 09:00 - 17:00, Saturday 09:00 - 14:00. Until the 6th of April 2023. Admission: Free


Photos below show the grand opening of the exhibition in the Library of the Goethe Institut in downtown Athens. Photos copyright © of Alexandra Masmanidi except for some I took as well; many thanks! 

While filming little snippets, I started talking to the smartphone camera and including commentary. This was really very easy with next-to-no preparation. I highly recommend it and it can be used to promote our work more (see some sellected film snippets in:

Digital Versions

Monday, February 13, 2023

Winter Walk: National Gardens of Athens


Saturday, 11th of February
Walk in the National Gardens by Goethe-Institut Athen

The National Gardens, formerly the Royal Gardens, is something like Central Park for Athenian naturalists. Its been the go-to place for an easy stroll and a guided introduction to nature in deep urbania. It is also a botanical garden with amazing specimens, particularly the century-plus huge live oaks (Quercus ilex). One of the most important aspects in the National Gardens is the presence of abundant water. Its water features are wonderful - and they have an amazing and very ancient history. 

The water that is still reaching the Gardens is the product of a feat of hydraulic technology from the sixth Century BC. The subterranean aquaduct of Peisistratos used to provide water to Ancient Athens from the foothills of Imittos about seven kms away. It was subterranean - about six meters deep and 60 cm wide. This same water route, using this same ancient aquaduct waters the Gardens today!

There are seven major ponds in the National Gardens, begining with the "flowing pond" that recieves the crystal clear aquaduct waters in the upper part of the Garden, at its topographically highest area, near the Vassilisis Sofias Avenue entrance. Next to this first pond are Roman villa mosaics.... Each of the seven ponds is distinctive. There are Koi Carp and Goldfish, Green Toads and American terrapins. And birds. The nearby 'zoological collection' is rather ridiculous but its the only place to see the wonderful Cretan Wild Goat in the City (Mount Parnitha also has wilder ones...). In winter the atmosphere in the Gardens is unique since the leafless diciduous trees allow for wide-scape views of the mini-landscapes of this wonderful oasis. 

I thank the Goethe Institut who organized this walk and especially, Karen Eichholz and Nikolleta Stathopoulou who also provided me with some of these photos.

The seven ponds of the National Gardens; with my simple names: 1) Vassilisis Sofia's Pond, 2) Nature Pond, 3) Guard's Pond, 4) Wisteria Pergola Pond, 5) Turtle Pond, 6) Central Pond, 7) Oleander Island Pond. If anyone knows the true names of the ponds, or of other ponds in the Garden please write me. 

Important Coastal Conservation Priorities in Kuwait

Back to Kuwait, and invitation by KISR

I made a short trip to Kuwait visiting my colleagues at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR). I have been a visitor to Kuwait as a researcher since 2011, a place that was introduced me and several friends from Greece. This introduced me to the wonders of the subtropical seas, coasts and wetlands of the Arabian Gulf.  I'll try to place captions in the near-future.


Thursday, December 29, 2022

Industrial wind farms in Greece

Industrial wind farms in Greece
Winter 2022

With its high relief and geographical diversity Greece is definately on of the richests countries in Europe in terms of scenic landscape resources. These landscape attributes are, as one would expect, taken for granted. Just like biological riches, these landscape riches can be plundered and degraded.  Landscapes can be desecrated by all sorts of developments - poor planning, wrongly-placed roads and industrial wind farms, for example. 

Here I present some thoughts and photos of industrial wind farms in Greece today.

The first voice you may hear is: Not in my back yard! The NIMBY syndrome. But, many of these landscapes are part of the local identity, sometimes they are outstandingly important: often within protected areas (within the Natura 2000 network) or near famous historical, mythological, archaeological sites. Sometimes there in nobody's backyard: wilderness mountain crests and islets. So its not just NIMBY. Often, it is misplaced industry: bad planning. And with dirty politics included.  

So, how bad is the situation? 
I think Greece is a special case for this kind of problem - a "planning accident" of a grand scale. 
Wind farms have expanded during the last 10 years; and they keep expanding. Broad-scale and wholesale destruction of landscapes and protected areas is taking place in the name of alternative wind-power development. 

What wind farms and their infrastructure may affect:
  • Biodiveristy, wildlife habitats
  • Designated protected areas (e.g. Natura 2000 site integrity)
  • Wilderness (roadless areas that are remote and of high natural or cultural integrity)
  • Traditional cultural landscapes (land-use patterns)
  • Cultural Ecosystem Services  (including non-material benefits provided by natute to human society)
  • The tourism industry
  • Aesthetic qualities
Some photos and maps and a recent paper of ours illustrate the situation today; I believe it is an important concern.

On Mount Kytheron with the Corinthian Gulf. (Photo courtesy of Nikos Nezis).

 Same area as above; Mount Kytheron with the Corinthian Gulf in the distance. (Photo from the internet).

In the magnificient...formerly wild Akarnanika, the Acarnanian Mountains. Desecration of landscape. Also an important haunt for vultures and good populations of rock partriges...will the wildlife survive? Road-access is the big problem (Photo by Apostolos Kaltsis/HOS). 

Close-up in the Acarnanian Mountains (Photo from the internet).

Same place above, from afar. The Acarnanian mountains with Perganti peak crowned by the mega-turbines as seen from afar; same location as previous photo. (Photo by Vassilis Wooseas). 

Thrace, in NE Greece is the scene of remarkable wind farm expansions, much of them unseen, unheard of and neglected. This on is just north of Alexandroupolis. The interesting problem here is that these developments are on ridglines in a very forested (re-wilded) area; some of the ridges were the only grassy meadowlands left in the landscape, now they are roaded "drive-ways" with lines of wind towers. 

Wind park with gigantic industrial turbines on Mount Valtou in the Pindos range- imporantant wilderness areas and critical for vultures. Seems absolutely UNREAL! (Photo from the internet).

Oh the roads, the dust, a wind-factory landscape. This near Molaous on the road to Monemvasia in the Peloponnese. (Photo by the author).

The "wind-factory" near Molaous (as above) in Monembasia municipality, Peloponnese.  Dystopian or ecological landscape - you choose...(Photo from internet).

One of the large parks near Kalavrita in the Northern Peloponnese at 1600 m. elevation (photo from recent video of Terna Green Energy).

In the Argolid, Municipality of Trizinia, Peloponnese. Again mountain ridgelines of industry, you can see the quarry-like size of the founation bases and road. Desecrated former wilderness. "Maybe a tourist attraction for a small number of new age californication fans..."

In the Argolid, Peloponnese. Again mountain ridgelines. Formerlly, no roads, no access, endemic plant hotsports. Sky islands. Desecrated wildernesses.

In the "Sky Islands" of the central Peloponnese, this is within a Natura 2000 site on Mount Artemision. These insular highland landscapes have a unique climate and many endemics. There was no road here. Now the industrial machines provide clean electricity. What are the costs?

On Mount Asksio, near Siatisa (Western Macedonia) former higland grasslands, wonderful areas that remind one of the short-grass prairies up in the sky. Now they are road-scarred, fragmented, broken.  Forever. See Google Earth image from this area is shown below.

These are the road-scars on Mount Askio near Siatista in the Western Macedonia region (Sattelite image from 2020). All these meandering roads are new, all are for wind farm development.  Despite the rather smoothe low-relief conditions in these highlands (see above) there is one road with an incredible slide. Where they just trying to finish the project in a hurry? 

Construction works often resemble open-pit quarrying or maybe a war-zone? These two photos are from the Mani Peninsula; the project is controversial because it would aesthetically and ecological damage rare landscapes, including protected areas (photos from the internet).

Agioi Apostoloi on Euboea Island. About 20 wind turbines are visible in this image, but the number in the surrounding area is in the hundreds!!! It really is an interesting degree of landscape distress! (Photo from the internet).

Agioi Apostoloi on Euboea Island (same area as abome). Looking northwards - Lake Dystos on the middle Left. (Photo from the internet).

New Vestas power plant being errected somewhere in the Aegean. Note the cultural landscape of high-stone walls and terraces. (Photo from the internet).

Near Antia in Southern Euboea Island above the brilliant blue of the Aegean.

In the picture are just five mega industrial turbines  (Kafireas, Euboea Island). Its impossible to show the effects on the landscape - its impossible to show how this highlands area was before. But before this it was...lets say a different place. 

At 1000 m elevation on Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea. Are there significant effects on the biodiversity uniquness of these "sky islands" in the Aegean? 

A rather famous drone shot taken from the website and video documenting the achievement of building a gigantic wind farm on an uninhabited islnad south of Athens - the Agios Giorgios Wind Farm. Now the islet is an industrial site or maybe in some perceptions it is a work of industiral art and of a New Age. In some ways it is beautiful, except if you knew the place before the 'development'.

Drone photograph of a windfarm on Kephalonia Island; the peak is no longer a wilderness islet but a lovely industrial site and look-out: now easily accessible to tourists and local recreationists... (Photo from the internet).


My sincere opinion: After working in Greece for many many years and having witnessed real change in the '80s and '90s, I believe that the issue of industrial windfarm mass developement is the single most important threat to biodiversity and landscape integrity in this country in recent times. It cannot be eclipsed by anthing - even considering other important threats such as urban and coastal building sprawl, ongoing wetland and river degradation, and mega-wildfires. We are talking about a step-change in wild land change in a country. Greece really did have wild land until just a decade or so ago in many areas that are now slated to become wind farms (mountain crests, upland wilds, off-shore islands). This issue is seriously big and harmful. And it has been overlooked. 

The level of the threat? Where is the industry being concentrated-promoted? This is the scence in 2020 from Vlami et al. 2020.  Read paper in link below:

Please read our review for a 'conservative' analysis of the windfarm threats to protected areas in Greece:

MORE photos, real scenes from Greece....

Mountain peaks have been called "sky islands" since they have distinct and often unique bioclimatic conditions hosting unique plant and animal communities; the effect is particularly important in Greece (where there are many endemic plants isolated on such habitats and many range-restricted animal species surviving up there as well). And now we have a landscape-scale change often targeting moutain-tops and mountain crests (internet photos from western Greece). 

Nightmare landscape change (internet photo).

Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea (Author's Photo).

Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea. Local environmentalists took the case to the Supreme Court and there was a six month moratorium - the buldozers were all locked up and there was silence. Ultimately the case was lost and all windfarms constructed on previously unroaded mountain ridges (Author's Photo).

These ones are abandoned; Southern Euboea (near Kastri). (Author's photo).

Near Antia on Euboea island (Author's photo).

The Mani Peninsula in southern Peloponnese. Its an important passage area for raptors, but perhaps most importantly a unique and historical cultural landscape. Now marred by a new wind farm(Photo from Internet).

Archeological sites such as Ancient Macynia in western Greece are also aesthetically affected (Photo from Internet). 

Greece's protected area system has expanded since the mid 1990s and many believe this is a good thing. However, the ability of the country to manage and safe-guard these areas is sadly poorly supported by government planning and development decisions. Many of the windfarms are within protected areas (source: OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Greece 2020).