An awareness-raising campaign for Lake Koroneia draws in elementary school children from the region

“When a flower isn’t watered, it withers and dies, and that’s what has happened with our lake too,» said fisherman Dinos Raptopoulos in his introduction to elementary school children from Aghios Vassileios and Profitis who were learning about Koroneia, a lake struck by numerous disasters in the past in northern Greece. The children sat around the elderly man on the banks of the lake and heard, for the first time, that Koroneia once fed hundreds of families living in the area. «There were 300 boats fishing the lake and they would bring up around 20 tons of fish every day,» said Raptopoulos, who has been casting his nets since the age of 15. «The lake used to seem blessed by God. It would attract migratory birds and the fish from Ai-Vassilis were renowned in the Modiano market [in Thessaloniki], where we would sell our catch,» reminisced Raptopoulos. Remembering the Nazi occupation, the fisherman recounted how German soldiers would take the entire daily catch from the fishermen and, after weighing it, pay them just 1 percent of its worth. «But,» he said, «we would always find a way to steal a fish or two, to feed our families or to sell.» When the students asked the 83-year-old to tell them when the problems with the lake began, he scowled. «The big environmental disaster happened in 1995, but the lake was dying slowly up until then,» he said. About 150 students were present at the park near the lake in a program promoting environmental awareness and education that has been in operation for the past three months with elementary schools in the broader region, organized by the body that manages the Koroneia-Volvi-Macedonian Tempe National Park. According to the head of the organization, Lagada Eparch Savvas Anastasiadis, the volunteer force guarding the lake has succeeded in reducing infringements by 50 percent in just the past few months. The children who participated in the event also organized a photography exhibition whose subject was Koroneia. They participated in theatrical and environmental games and also attended classes on the various species that used to or still live in the lake and on the environmental disasters that have taken place. They also learned of the myth that is connected with Lake Koroneia. «Once upon a time,» related Raptopoulos, «there was a Byzantine emperor who wanted to cross the frozen lake in the dead of winter with his court. The ice suddenly broke and, losing his balance, he lost his crown [korona, in Greek] in the icy water. Suddenly, there appeared a figure which people believe was Aghios [Saint] Vassileios and he led the emperor and his court to safety. The lake was named Koroneia after the emperor’s crown and the area Aghios Vassileios after the savior saint.» (ANA)

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