Implementation of Management Plans for Pylos Lagoon and Evrotas Delta, Natura 2000 Sites, Greece "LIFE-Nature and the Conservation of Mediterranean Wetlands.
Proposals for the adaptation of the LIFE Instrument to the conservation needs of Mediterranean countries; analysis and evaluation", Proceedings of the Workshop held in Barcelona, Catalonia, Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Medi Ambiεnt, Barce
1a. The project sites
The project addresses two proposed Natura 2000 coastal sites in Greece, here called Pylos Lagoon and Evrotas Delta, mainly characterised by wetland habitats essential for migratory avifauna and by sand dune systems important for two highly threatened reptile species.
The two areas are in South West and South East Peloponnese. In Pylos the wetland area consists of a 250 ha open lagoon with a surrounding saltmarsh and reedbed, separated from the sea by a narrow belt of sand dunes.
Evrotas river used to form vast deltaic floodplains and coastal alluvial depositions now largely reduced. Today saltmarshes exist in the eastern and western margins of the area and a small lagoon lies in the east. Scattered remnants of freshwater marshes exist as well as seasonally flooded tamarisk scrub and abandoned ricefields. Along the beach lies the most extensive sand dune ecosystem of south Peloponese stretching for some 15 km of coastline and with a width of 10-35 m. The rest of the area are extensive fields and orchards.
Human presence and impact on the areas
Although both areas have been inhabited from ancient times, it was not until late 50’s that major habitat alterations took place following a nationwide trend of wetland drainage. In Evrotas this resulted in the embankment of the river mainstream and the creation of a network of drainage ditches. All surrouding land was given to agriculture. For some time rice fields, abandoned today, prevailed forming a favourable habitat for waterfowl. Today olive groves and orchards form the dominant cultivations, with a considerable amount of greenhouses present. Only the coastal non-productive zone has preserved its natural characteristics.
In Pylos the drainage schemes proved non-feasible but, nevertheless, the two streams suppling fresh water in the lagoon were permanently diverted to the sea. This, together with the construction of a permanent connection with the sea resulted gradually in a dramatic distortion of the physicochemical status of the lagoon, with salinity reaching seasonally twice that of the sea, low oxygen levels and frequent dystrophic crises (Dounas & Κoutsoubas, 1996).
1b. Natural importance and the designation as Community Interest Sites
Pylos lagoon is the southernmost internationally important wetland in Eastern Europe. Of the 254 recorded bird species, 79 belong to Annex I of Birds Directive. Two priority habitat types are present whilst other important species include Sea Turtle and other reptiles. The African Chameleon population is unique in Europe but, being recently dicovered, is not included in the Annexes of Habitats Directive.
Evrotas Delta is also important for birds (242 bird species recorded, 66 included in Annex I). It also hosts important reptile and mammal species and is also one of the prime nesting areas of Sea Turtle in Greece.
Both sites qualify as Important Bird Areas (IBA) and in 1995 were included in the National List of proposed NATURA 2000 sites.
2. GETTING TO THE LIFE PROJECT
2a. The project partners
The Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) founded in 1982 is an NGO dealing with bird protection in Greece undertaking large scale monitoring work and conservation and management of protected areas in Greece.
The Sea Turtle Protection Society (STPS), founded in 1983, is an NGO, working for the protection of sea turtles and their habitats in Greece. The Society’s activities include monitoring of turtle populations, active management on nesting beaches, lobbying and raising of public awareness.
The Institute of Marine Biology of Crete (IMBC) was established in 1987 as an independent research organisation with Departments of Marine Environment and Ecology, Fisheries, Aquaculture and Genetics.
2b. Actions prior to the project proposal
HOS has been monitoring bird populations on Pylos Lagoon since 1989 and identified the severe decrease in waterbird populations. It also supported actions for the conservation of the unique chameleon species. In 1996 a preliminary management plan formed the basis for extracting the main actions needed.
In Evrotas it was only in 1995 and 1996 when thorough research was made realising that, despite severely degraded, Evrotas Delta was still very important for avifauna. In an internal report for HOS the survey team summarized the main values and threats for the site and the more straightforward management needs.
IMBC was involved in the area of Pylos after a tanker accident in 1993 when it elaborated the oil impact study in the Navarino bay and the lagoon. During this work IMBC team detected the quality and the threats to the aquatic environment and identified the main management actions needed.
STPS has been working in Evrotas since 1985. Its work has been focused on the sandy beach and the Sea-turtle population. The continuous presence of STPS helped HOS work by creating an important link with local population and authorities.
In 1996, it was decided to proceed with the LIFE-Nature project application in order to implement the most urgent and feasible of the actions needed to be taken, described in the preliminary management plans.
3. THE LIFE-Nature PROJECT
The LIFE-Nature project was granted to HOS (beneficiary), IMBC and STPS in 1997, titled "Implementation of Management plans for Pylos Lagoon and Evrotas Delta, Natura 2000 Sites, Greece". The project focuses in three principal axes:
- the execution of immediate actions for a) the prevention of further degradation and restoration of natural habitats and b) the protection of species.
- the undertaking of an active campaign aiming at the arousal of public awareness and interest for the areas.
- the preparation of the legislative procedures for the designation of the area as protected under Greek Law.
3a1. Wetland restoration works
The most direct way to deal with increased salinity in Pylos lagoon was to increase its freshwater supply by restoring the two streams that had been diverted to the sea. However, this could not be achieved by simply diverting them back into the lagoon as there is a strong social interest for some of this water and, furthermore, this water is not always of guaranteed quality due to olive oil process waste. Therefore, there was an obvious need to be able to control the input of fresh water. This technical work, has been recently completed and consists of two sluices for controlled freshwater input in selected areas of the lagoon. A monitoring station has been installed in Pylos lagoon and operated by IMBC aiming at the collection and scientific evaluation of data on the abiotic and biotic parameters of the aquatic habitat. Data are fed on the numerical model ERSEM, developed in the context of MAST (Marine Αdvanced Science Technology) projects. In the course of the LIFE project IMBC developed a new version of the model in order to examine its potential to predict the response of the benthic communities to the changing conditions appearing through the project progress and mainly salinity decrease. The application of the model already points out its potential as a management tool in coastal wetlands.
3a2 Chameleo management
The Chameleons of Pylos were first described in1989 (Boehme 1989) as European chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Only in 1998 they were finally recognized as belonging to a second species, the African chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus, Boehme et al 1998), found in Europe only in Pylos.
Breeding season starts in August when adults gather near the sandy beach. Laying period lasts from mid September to late October. Laying takes two days and females have to spend a night inside the nest hole, being very vulnerable to predators. Eggs hatch 11 months later with youngs appearing from mid August to late September.
Nowadays, the main threat to Chameleons are feral cats and dogs which dig out the eggs and kill laying females in the nests. They are frequent on the Divari beach, especially after summer when they are abandoned by tourists
Human pressure also results in road casualties, when chameleons have to pass the asphalt road in search for mates. Before the start of the project an estimated 10-20% of adults perished each summer in this way. Furthermore, farmers have encroached into the chameleon habitat whilst the widespread use of milling kills many juveniles and destroys the nests made in the fields.Yet, the most dangerous human activity is trade and collection which could wipe-out the Pylos chameleon population.
Conservation and Management actions
The folowing conservation actions are undertaken in order to halt the above threats:
Protection of laying females and nests by patrolling along the beach, tracking laying females, nest recording and placement of protective wire mesh over nests. During the monitoring of nesting activity apart from checking for hutchlings, the juveniles found are placed on safe bushes, out of the reach of predators. Nest translocation is done whenever nests are in very exposed sites. Reduction of mortality due to road accidents is achieved by installing speed limit signs and humps and by giving systematically informing visitors. Regulation of domestic animals (cats and dogs) at the beach is achieved by trapping and releasing far away feral cats whilst dogs are caught and given to people.
Habitat management and improvement is done mainly by restoration of indigenous vegetation creating corridors for safe pre-nesting movements of chameleons and expanding the available habitat. Construction of small sand dunes suitable for nesting has been tested during the first year of the project and will go on in selected sites, offering extra nesting space on sites selected for their safety. Safeguarding against collection, illegal free camping, bush fires, deliberate or accidental killing of animals and destruction of nests is done systematically supported by volunteers.
3a3. Sea Turtle Caretta caretta management
The most direct threat that nests and hutchlings face is predation. Nest predation by feral dogs and cats has been increased in recent years due to the expansion of coastal settlements. Nestlings are predated by mammals but also birds such as Gulls and Crows.
Human presence is intense throughout the beach, during summer. Summer settlements result in intense human presence along the beach as do the five canteens working round the clock. Off-road vehicles moving along the coastal dunes can destroy nests and hatchlings can be trapped in the wheel ruts left on the sand. Bright lights near the beach can disorientate hatchlings on their way to the sea.
Conservation and Management actions
STPS framed and coordinated. the summer management strategy for the long term increase of hutching success including monitoring of nesting activity covering both egg-laying and hutching periods (June-November). In 1998, 20 nests hutched succefully in Pylos and 239 in Evrotas beaches. The actions include patrolling along the beach, tracking and marking laying females, recording and monitoring nests and hutching success. Anti-predator actions include fencing of nests, safeguarding nestlings until they reach the sea safely. Nest translocation soon after laying is necessary wherever nests are made in non safe areas such as next to the sea or with acute human disturbance. In total, a percentage of 21,4% of the nests were tranferred during the nesting periods of 1997 and 1998, while 22 nests were succesfully transferred in the two hatcheries constructed. Dealing with bright lights is done with the cooperation of local authorities and private owners so that lights go out during the nesting period. Whenever this is not possible light blockers are placed and dark corridors are constructed so that hutchlings follow a prescribed safe route to the sea.
Lakonikos Bay, being a most productive fishing area of Greece, is a known wintering site for Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas. Dermochelys coriacea has also been recorded. It is also characterised by a large fishing fleet and intensive commercial fishing. As a result, a significant number of wintering sea turtles are deliberately persecuted or accidentally captured by fishermen
The winter strategy for the reduction of sea turtle mortality at sea worked out by STPS takes place during the commercial fishing period from October to May and main actions involve registration of the fishing activities of trawlers and collection of data related with capture rates . Location of dead and wounded turtles and transport to the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Athens for treatment or autopsy in the case of dead animals while records are held and analysed. Fishermen information is critically important since, as it was demonstrated by pilot surveys during 1989-1991, fishermen can readily turn favourably towards conservation of turtles provided regular and proper information is given. This can substantially reduce accidental or deliberate mortality of turtles and cetacean species.
3b. Public acceptance/awareness
The present LIFE-Nature project implements a very wide range of actions in the ‘public awareness’ front. These include in situ public information activities (visitor information, organised visits, events like birdwatching days etc) and ex situ ones (seminars in target groups, schools, fairs, exhibitions and other events in villages and towns etc.), production and dissemination of printed material (brochures, posters, slide and video series), creation of visitor infrastructure (including visitor centres in the workstations, signposting, paths etc.). The wide range and volume of activities this section is due to the following facts:
1. The sites are popular with visitors and many threats come from the uncontroled human presence. As a result many of the above actions are targeting in human activities regulation and management and form an essential part of the "site management". For example beach visitor information is not simply explanatory or seeking public support but, principally, targets in reducing an important threat for the sea turtles.
2. The present project is the first one ever on nature conservation in both areas. Therefore, the project not only has to consider informing public about our activities but also has to introduce the nature conservation concept itself. This also includes explaining the basics of the Natura-2000 network about which nobody in these areas had ever informed before.
This second fact is extremely important as the project has to establish public recognition of the two sites as areas of natural heritage and ecological value and for this, public acceptance of our presence and work in the area is very important. One has to consider that people in Peloponnese appear rather greedy and non-economical with nature. This means that the self-restrictions imposed for the conservation of the natural character of the area cannot be easily accepted. Local target groups largely represent a generation that grew up treating wetlands as hunting terrains or wasteland. Most have witnessed and many have been involved as engineers or workers in the drainage works. Under this context, actions in this field often have a key role in the overall project succcess. For example, the undertaking of the rather expensive and laborious task of restoring the old pump house and transforming it into a workstation and visitor information centre in Pylos, has an extra purpose. This building, dominating in the surrounding lanscape, is the symbol of the lagoon and of the past efforts to drain it. Its new role will visually demonstrate to locals the role of the site and that something has definitely changed.
3c. Legislative proceedings
According to Greek Law for the designation of a proposed Natura 2000 site as protected a Presidential Decree has to be issued. The Presidential Decree follows the elaboration of a Special Environmental Study (SES). The SES is a multidisciplinary study elaborated by a closely working team of scientists such as ecologists, zoologists and votanists, geologists, archaiologists, economists, physical planners and experts in environment legislation. Following specifications set by Greek legislation, the whole rank of the abiotic and biotic parametres of the sites is described and all spatial information is presented in suitable maps (inluding land use, habitat mapping and species distribution). The natural and socioeconomic importance of the area is then evaluated. This allows the development of a zonation system which consists of the core area or areas, a buffer zone and areas suitable for ecotouristic development. For each zone restrictions and permitted activities are defined and specific management plans are proposed. In the context of this LIFE project an SES is now in progress for each site coordinated by the HOS.
4. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS
At the time of writing the project is ongoing. However, when thinking about the uselfuness of LIFE-Nature for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands it is obvious that, for an NGO like HOS, LIFE is a good chance to proceede with the implementation of well defined actions for the conservation of habitats and species.
Clearly, the efficiency of a LIFE project depends on the host country (in Greece it is the best way of implementing management actions) and the nature of the beneficiary (a public body can afford the strenuous financial and administrative procedures whilst an NGO is much more flexible to adjust with changing conditions).
However, it appears that - at least in Greece - the most important parameter is whether the project takes place in an already protected site (e.g. a RAMSAR site or a Natural Park) or in a still unprotected area whose ecological importance was first officially recognised by including it to the proposed Natura-2000 network. In the first case LIFE can be readily succesful by simply implementing the management actions required. In the latter things are more strenuous as the beneficiary has to introduce to local population and authorities the nature conservation concept and Natura-2000 Network and convince about the benefits from these. In practical terms, this means increased efforts prior and during the project. This also means that lobbying and especially the public awareness part are much more important and this should be taken into account when judging a project application for a site like this.
Last, but not least, is that a LIFE project is, already by itself and not only by the actions it implements, a major conservation action. This means that - especially for the developers - the project demonstrates that there is a serious interest for the ecological value of the site and any plans should be in accordance to this, something already experienced in our project.
We conclude that LIFE-Nature is a useful tool for the conservation of wetlands not only by enabling specific management interventions but also by demonstrating the EU interest for these importnat habitats.
1. Boehme W. 1989. Neuer Nachweis von Chamaeleo chamaeleon (LINNAEUS, 1758) vom Peloponnes, Griechenland. Herpetofauna 11(59): 32-34.
2. Boehme W., Bonetti A., Chiras G. 1998. The Chameleons of mainland Greece: taxonomic allocation and conservation needs af a second European species. Herpetozoa 11(1/2): 87-91.
3. Kardakari N. (ed) (1998) "Implementation of Management Plans for Pylos Lagoon and Evrotas Delta, Natura 2000 Sites, Greece: First Technical Interim Report to EE", HOS STPS, IMBC, Athens
4. Dounas C., Koutsoubas D., ( 1996) : Oil pollution in Navarino Bay and Gialova lagoon, Pylo s. Ministry of Agriculture, Final report (in greek)