Visiting the lakes of Greece

A man who spent his working life planning, designing and constructing land reclamation projects that have helped to decimate Greek wetlands is the last person you might expect to produce a book on lakes. Yet Giorgos Fatouros managed to combine a land reclamation career at the Agriculture Ministry and his skill as an amateur photographer with a love of the Greek lakes and wetlands that he has now recorded in a wonderful illustrated volume. Ten-year journey «Lakes: A Photographic Journey in Greece,» published by Patakis, is a treasury of images and information. From the most spectacular and famous lake to the tiniest seasonal wetland, Fatouros has documented more than 290 of them, finding many of the little-known ones with the help of colleagues who had local knowledge. He also photographed the most important marshes and all the artificial lakes made by the Public Power Corporation. It took him 10 years. The images, accompanied by a wealth of information, illustrate «Lakes: A Photographic Journey in Greece.» The journey starts in Thrace, and moves on to Macedonia, Thessaly, Epirus, central Greece, the Peloponnese, the Ionian, the Aegean and Crete. For each region there is a map pinpointing the sites, and a concise but comprehensive introduction to their geography, history, flora, fauna and environmental status. The photographs come with captions relating the myths associated with each location and more detail about the interplay between the wetlands and the overall ecosystem. And what a story it is. Take just one example, the Stymphalian Lake, home in myth to the ferocious, polluting Stymphalian birds said to have been reared by Ares and destroyed by Hercules with the assistance of Athena. Hera was also said to have taken refuge there when she was fed up with Zeus’ serial infidelities. Pausanias wrote about the lake, and Hadrian built a pipeline from it to Corinth. The government assigned the job of draining the lake in 1881 so as to create farmland, but the company botched the job. Now the lake and winter water from the Asopos River irrigate 6,100 hectares of land. Much of the lake (65 percent) is covered with rushes, water lilies and reed beds. Conifers, deciduous trees and turf grow in the catchment basin, which is home to rare and endemic fauna, as well as being a way station for migratory birds and a nesting site for herons and raptors. Several species of fish inhabit the lake, including one that can withstand drought by lurking in the mud. Not surprisingly, the site is in the Nature 2000 network and has been listed as a «significant area for the birds of Greece.» Reclamation, irrigation and other human interventions have taken their toll on the wetlands of Greece, and the author scrupulously documents the results. As he notes, however, some of the projects that ravaged and depleted the wetlands were undertaken to meet what were serious needs in earlier times. Land reclamation, for instance, contributed to the loss of 70 percent of Greek wetlands, which seems like a crime by today’s standards. Yet it was originally undertaken not only to make more agricultural land available at a time when Greece was absorbing masses of refugees from Asia Minor, but also to rid the country of malaria. Today’s challenges Among contemporary challenges to Greece’s wetlands, Fatouros mentions projects that suddenly alter water levels and introduce sediments, upsetting the ecosystem, the demand for irrigation which is drying up lakes, the disposal of unprocessed town and industrial waste as well as agrichemicals in lakes, to say nothing of land-grabbing, the dumping of rubble and sheer indifference on the part of the public. As he says, some of the lakes he photographed may already have disappeared, in which case, «this book is a requiem for them.» His pictures attest, however, that there is still much to admire and visit in the superb lakes, lagoons, marshes and wetlands to which this book pays handsome tribute.