Greece’s wetlands endangered by indifference, farming, pollution

Greece’s wetlands, areas of major environmental, economic and social importance that are rich in a variety of ecosystems with hundreds of rare species of birds, fish and plants, are being ignored or, at best, given only spasmodic attention. Greece’s wetlands are home to 138 species of birds and 110 of fish, not to mention rare mammals, amphibians and reptiles. «Since 1920, about 60 percent of Greece’s wetlands have been drained for farming,» said Dimitris Karavelas, director of the Greek branch of the environmental organization WWF. «Today the total area of wetlands has been reduced for housing or other development, and the waters drained either as a result of overdrilling or irrigation. Water quality has deteriorated because of pollution and many species of animals and plants are disappearing,» Karavelas said. The importance of Greece’s wetlands has been recognized by international organizations such as the Ramsar Convention, which covers 10 regions in Greece (Prespa and Kerkini lakes, the deltas of the Nestos, Loudia-Axios-Aliakmonas, Evros Rivers, Kotychi, Amvrakikos, the Mesolongi lagoon, the Volvi-Koroneia and the Vistonida-Porto Lagos-Ismaria lake complexes). «One of Greece’s biggest problems is the management status of these areas,» said Spyros Kouvelis, the coordinator of the Mediterranean initiative MedWet. «Management bodies founded a long time ago functioned for a while, but most are now inactive. Yet pressure on these areas is greater due to land grabbing (the Evros), pollution (Koroneia) or intensive hunting (Kotychi),» he added. By far the best-preserved wetland in Greece is the Prespa Lakes, perhaps because of its situation on the borders of three countries (Greece, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). «The situation in the Prespa Lakes is relatively good, thanks to the systematic work of the Prespa Protection Society, local organizations and the state,» said Kouvelis. «The local population has also realized the importance of the effort.» Yet problems remain. «I think that the Greek government is missing a major opportunity to play a leading role in environmental diplomacy,» said Karavelas. «After a very good beginning in 2001, Greece has been looking on passively as the other two countries have been receiving subsidies. The development of the Greek part of Prespa is heading for the same fate as the rest of the country’s protected areas, with phantom management bodies, no administrators, resources, staff or management plans.»