Thousands of waterfowl have been found dead in the northern Lake Koroneia, according to the latest estimates yesterday, which turned what had appeared to be a small-scale outbreak into a major ecological disaster in one of Greece’s most endangered bird habitats. Although Thessaloniki Prefecture officials held an emergency meeting on the developing catastrophe yesterday, there are still no official figures available on just how many birds have died in the lake – a once flourishing ecosystem near Langadas, some 20 kilometers east of Thessaloniki. Unofficial estimates place the number at around 15,000. Members of the Hunting Federation of Macedonia and Thrace who inspected a 10th of the lake’s 40-to-50km perimeter counted 2,383 corpses. Initial reports Wednesday had spoken of 500 dead birds, including rare Dalmatian pelicans, shovelers, black-winged stilts and several gull species. Among the victims was an Arctic tern with a ring round its leg, which had been fitted by wildlife authorities in Finland. In yesterday’s meeting, it was decided to try to frighten away the surviving waterfowl by installing devices that automatically fire blanks among the lakeside reeds, while a ban was placed on fishing in the waters of Koroneia. The causes of the mass extinction are still unclear, although Thessaloniki University experts are examining dead birds, as well as water samples. According to initial reports yesterday, experts suspect a mass poisoning that may have been caused by a toxin-producing bacterium in the lake’s invertebrates – the birds’ main source of nutrition. The bacterial population is thought to have exploded as a result of pollution and the drastic drop in the level of the lake, which completely dried up in August 2002 after its waters were siphoned off by local farmers and industries. In 1995, pollution wiped out the lake’s entire fish population. Earlier this year, the European Commission decided to take Greece to court for its failure to adequately protect a number of wildlife habitats, including Koroneia – which, in theory, falls under the protection of international treaties.