Many are familiar with the Schinias marsh, Lake Vouliagmeni, and possibly even the Vourkari wetlands. But Attica actually has 49 more wetlands, not counting known rivers, canals and streams. Most are in moderate or bad condition due to anarchic urban planning, and four have disappeared entirely. A study conducted on the wetlands of Attica reveals the urgency with which they must be placed under institutional protection.
A study and demarcation of the 53 wetlands that exist in the region of Attica (both mainland and islands) was conducted in 2016 by the National Biotope/Wetland Center (EKBY). Among them, 20 are larger than 80 acres and the 29 smallest have been drained, as have the Faliriko Delta, the Loutsa-Kalamion marsh, the coastal marsh of Avlaki and the coastal area near the power plant in Lavrio. Two of the lakes, Vouliagmeni and Koumoundourou, are considered wetland ecosystems. Three – Oropos, Siftas Tsizinias and Alkis Porou – are lagoons. Five are inland swamps that occur seasonally, seven are urban swamps and nine are river deltas. Twenty are coastal swamps.
Five new wetlands that were not mentioned in the existing records of state and nongovernment agencies that monitor them were discovered during this operation. They are the Tobazi, Aghia Sotiria and Vidi Trizinias coastal wetlands and the Alkis Porou lagoon in Galata, as well as the mouth of the Groman stream in the area of Trizinias.
“The wetlands of Attica have shrunk particularly due to anarchic urban planning and development. They've also shrunk because of projects aimed at diverting water,” says Eleni Fitoka, who is responsible for the EKBY natural habitats census. “As has been a problem across the Mediterranean, the Attica region has seen vast changes in land use near wetlands and the degradation of resources. This includes the overdrawing of water, increased pollution and waste, which includes toxic chemicals, as well as the catastrophic disruption of natural rhythms due to agricultural and urban encroachment.”
Climate change is expected to cause further damage to the wetlands over the coming decades. “More frequent and prolonged periods of drought resulting from climate change are adding to the damage caused by human development. Many wetland systems are at risk of disappearing or shrinking further if the pressures they face aren't alleviated. Immediate action must be taken to protect them,” Fitoka urges.
Wetlands are sensitive to changes in the ecosystem. In Attica, the ecosystem has been majorly disturbed by urban encroachment. Therefore, the need for their protection at an institutional level is evermore imperative. “Some do have some sort of protection from the state. The Schinias-Marathon National Park is one example. Lake Vouliagmeni has been designated a natural monument and the Pikrodafni stream an area of particular environmental interest. Koumoundourou Lake is a wildlife refuge and a perennial park zone. Five of Attica's wetlands are included in Natura 2000, a coordinated network of protected areas in the European Union. Lake Vouliagmeni, the Vravronas, the Limanaki Thorikou and Legrenon swamps, and the Schinias-Marathon National Park are among them. Their protection is vital,” explains Fitoka.
A law was enacted in 2011 that provides for the protection of Attica wetlands through the scientific documentation of their boundaries and the environmental studies conducted on them. “According to the law, documentation of the wetlands must be taken into account by state and local administration when decisions are made that may directly or indirectly impact wetland areas,” says Fitoka.
Documenting Attica's wetlands became part of the framework of the project, “increasing knowledge and sensitivity with regard to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Attica wetlands.” The project was funded by European Economic Area (EEA) grants as well as the Greek Public Investments program.