Lake of death

The mass deaths of birds at Lake Koroneia in the north of Greece, which initially had been treated by news broadcasts as a mysterious pathological phenomenon, is turning into a massive ecological disaster with incalculable consequences for rare and protected species. The grim toll up to the time of writing has been put at 2,383 dead birds, found on an expanse that only covers one-tenth of the lake. The total of dead birds will thus probably run to many thousands. The disaster has wiped out 29 kinds of birds, only four of them game (the lake is a hunting area), while many are endangered species that are endemic to the wetlands of northern Greece. This is also the migratory season, with many species flying over to Africa, and the lake is a stopping point for a large number of birds. Among the dead birds was an Arctic tern, with a ring around its leg. It had come from Finland. Scientists are hoping to save the survivors by using warning explosions to drive the birds to Lake Volvi and the Axios Delta. Even if this succeeds, the disaster is irreversible. Neither can we change the fact that we find ourselves faced with yet another dreadful consequence of Greece’s shortsighted environmental policy. That shortsightedness nowhere cries out louder than at Koroneia. The lake, which has had a huge volume of waste poured into it, while water levels dropped, suffered the death of all its fish due to pollution in 1995. That catastrophe was not enough to prevent today’s, which might prove even more massive. Although toxicological tests have not yet been completed, scientists lean toward the conclusion that the cause of the disaster is the development of a toxin-producing bacterium that is found in the lake’s invertebrate population, which makes up the birds’ food. The spread of the bacterium is attributed to a number of causes, most of which are linked to the pollution of the lake and the degradation of its environment – phenomena, that is, that should have been dealt with in the wake of the 1995 disaster. Greeks constantly trumpet – and rightly so – the beauty of their land. We are tireless when emphasizing the prospects for further tourism development. At the same time, we are destroying that same environment, undermining not only hopes of developing tourism but also the vital ecological balance for local populations. Any progress in this sector has been shown to be insufficient. And environmental protection once more has emerged as a huge and urgent priority.