Protecting the wetlands of the Aegean Sea

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Europe/Middle-East > Southern Europe > Greece

The wetland at Achlas in the Andros island. Greece.
© WWF Greece / Nikos Georgiadis


A WWF survey counted 317 wetlands on 46 islands in the Aegean Sea. Although the wetlands are small, their environmental importance is huge: they are used as stopover sites for millions of migrant birds and they host rare habitats.

WWF has launched a public awareness campaign to help protect the wetlands, especially from development and tourism activities. A network of volunteers living on some of the islands is keeping an eye on any destructive practices that may threaten the wetlands.


Hundreds of small wetlands are scattered all over the islands of the Aegean Sea. Their ecological significance is multiple: they host endemic organisms, they are used as stop-over sites for millions of migrant birds, they contribute to the mosaic of the landscape, they protect soils from salination, host rare types of habitats and are essential parts of the water cycle.

The island wetlands are generally coastal, small, and their water is mainly brackish. As they lie on flat ground, they are vulnerable to human intrusion and encroachment: they are drained, deprived of their crucial freshwater inputs, over-pumped, over-grazed, dumped, cut with roads, polluted by various sewage, or filled with rubble to be built, cultivated or turned into airports.

The natural environment of the majority of the Aegean islands is being quickly degraded especially due to various impacts exceeding their carrying capacity in terms of per capita available natural resources. Especially the building of hotels and holiday houses, in combination with the right to building anywhere without town land planning, is the most serious factor of degradation which exerts incredible pressure to the integrity and quality of wetland habitats.

Some interesting statistics

The most common wetland type met in the Aegean islands is “small estuaries of seasonal streams/rivers/creeks (30.3%). Estuarine and coastal marshes follow (22%) and inland marshes and lagoons share the same frequency (19.5%). Dam lakes and reservoirs account for 11.2% and all other types represent the remaining 17% (large estuaries, saltmarshes, lakes, salines, springs, streams).

Only 5 wetlands are over 80 ha (2.8%), 22% of wetlands are between 8 and 80 ha, 11.8 % are between 2.5 and 8 ha, 24.3% are between 0.5 and 2.5 ha, 39.1% are below 0.5 ha.

50% of all wetlands visited are hit by some kind of pollution and 82% of wetlands suffered some kind of apparent degradation despite the fact that 54% are under some kind of protection status (though most are only non-hunting zones).

47% of wetlands have permanent presence of water and 75% of wetlands are used in some way by the local people.

Out of the total number of wetlands visited or checked only 2 (!) are adequately protected and have some kind of sound environmental management.

10% of all wetlands visited are artificial, a percentage that is going to increase in the future.

Only 1 in 3 wetlands get a naturalness index superior to 6 in a scale from 1(completely artificial) to 10 (primeval).

6 of the wetlands recorded as existing in the 1980s do not exist anymore.


- Use the knowledge collected during phase I and material produced in order to effectively communicate the importance and the plight of the Aegean wetlands.

- Use actions, experience and partnerships established in phases I and II in order to pursue tangible conservation results.

- Establish an operational scheme for the early identification of destructive interventions and their stopping.


- Final round of visits to wetlands (July-October 2005).
- Entering all data in the database with corrections (September 2005).
- Production of detailed and thematic maps (July-September 2005).
- Compilation of a comprehensive report (November 2005).
- Publication of information fact sheet and pamphlet (April 2005).
- Updating of project web page (December 2005).
- Publication of inventory book (March 2006).
- Organisation of workshop on “The future of Aegean wetlands” (April 2006).
- Production of environmental education package “We care for our wetlands” (March 2006).
- Preparation of PowerPoint presentations (January 2006) and scientific papers (June 2006).
- Compilation of conservation proposals for specific wetlands (April 2006).

In 2007, the establishment of the early-warning system is planned: a network of volunteers residing in the main islands of interest (initially Lesvos, Paros, Naxos and Kos). These volunteers will be chosen from the existent volunteer network of WWF Greece, as well as from relevant networks operating under different themes and structures. Each island will be appointed with one or more volunteers, who will undertake responsibillity for overseeing developments and acitivities in their areas and detecting any destructive interventions.

Analytical workplan

- Reorganization of the database to become more user-friendly.
- Transcription of the data to MEDWET exact standards and recording of the data intto the MEDWET database.
- Internet event for the announcement and the promotion of the Inventory Book, and launching of a dedicated website.
-Preparation of scientific papers.
-Continuation of publicity campaign.
-Designation of members of volunteers (early-warning network).
-Setting up of communication and networking channels (email alerts, internet newsgroups, etc).
-Kick-off meeting of the early-warning network.
-Operation of the network (continuous after April 2007).
-Follow up of the progress of conservation proposals submitted for specific wetlands.


1. Completed database.
2. Data sheet, English translation attached as “wetland sheet".
3. Map of the Aegean Sea with the identified wetlands.
4. List of identified wetlands.
5. Presentation to the symposium “Participation planning tools and methods for sustainable management of marine, coastal and island resources”.
6. Article at “7 days TV” magazine announcing the launch of the project and asking readers to provide information about Aegean wetlands they know.
7. Article on the “LEFT” website announcing the launch of the project and asking readers to provide information about Aegean wetlands they know.
8. Pamphlet produced for the “BLUE STAR" ferries announcing the launch of the project and asking readers to provide information about Aegean wetlands they know.
9. Article at the website of WWF Greece.
10. Press release for announcing the launch of the project and asking readers to provide information about Aegean wetlands they know. This press release was published in several national and local newspapers.

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