MedWet/Com1: report of the 1st meeting of the Mediterranean Wetlands Committee

MedWet/Com1: report of the 1st meeting of the Mediterranean Wetlands Committee

24 March 1998

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The first meeting of the Mediterranean Wetlands Committee (MedWet/Com) was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 15-17 March, thanks to a generous invitation of the Greek Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Publics Works, which covered all the costs involved, including the travel expenses of representatives of MedCom members who required such assistance. The event was very efficiently organized by the Greek Biotope / Wetland Centre, which acts as a secretariat unit for the MedWet Initiative, in support of the MedWet Coordinator, Mr Thymio Papayannis.

MedCom was established by the Standing Committee of the Convention on Wetlands as an advisory body to guide the implementation of the 1996 Mediterranean Wetlands Strategy, through a number of projects and activities grouped under the so-called Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet). MedCom and MedWet are served by the MedWet Coordinator (at present Mr. Thymio Papayanis, based in Athens), appointed by and under the supervision of the Ramsar Secretary General.

MedCom is a membership forum. Members are invited by the Ramsar Secretary General and may include representatives of all Mediterranean countries, other entities in the Mediterranean basin with an interest in wetlands, international organizations and a representative from each country of national NGO coalitions/networks. "Mediterranean countries" are understood to include all those with shores on that sea, plus countries with Mediterranean-type wetlands (such as Bulgaria, Jordan, Portugal, and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

As indicated by the attached decisions of MedCom1, the meeting in Thessaloniki was well attended. MedCom has now been established on a firm basis and it is hoped that its next meeting, planned for February 1999, will be devoted to discussing concrete projects and actions to be added to those already in place under the MedWet Initiative.

Restoration of Lake Karla in Greece

The MedCom meeting culminated with an excursion to Lake Karla, some 100 km north of Athens. Lake Karla was an 18,000-hectare lake that was completely drained in 1962 to gain land for agriculture. The lake was part of the ancient Greek mythology (the god Apollo was married on its shores). Before its drainage, it was the site of a unique fishermen culture, with the fishermen spending some nine months of the year in reed huts that they built on the lake. The lake fisheries were an important tradition and to some extent a significant economic activity.

For these reasons, and because agriculture was never successful in the saline soils of the former lake bed, the local population is very much in support of an ambitious project to restore the lake. The restoration will reflood only 5,000 of the original 18,000 hectares of the former lake. The project represents a 100 million ECU investment that would be financed with the support of the European Commission. Some technical aspects still require further elaboration in order to ensure that it is environmentally sound, but the project has so much popular and political support that most likely it will go ahead quite soon. If so, it would represent one of the most ambitious wetland restoration projects and a good case study for the Ramsar Convention.

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A panoramic view of the place occupied by the ancient Lake Karla (the mythological god Apollo got married on its shores, when it was called Lake Veisis). The 18,000 hectares lake was drained in 1962 to gain land for agriculture. Now plans are in hand to restore the lake, though only 5,000 hectares of it. The water at the back of the photograph corresponds to one of the seven irrigation and pollution control reservoirs that have been established in the region over the years.

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Dr. George Zalidis (left) of the Greek Biotope/Wetland Centre in Thessaloniki, who spearheaded the Lake Karla restoration project, provides explanations on the spot using a poster.

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MedCom1 participants, who included the Ramsar Secretary General, Delmar Blasco, the Regional Coordinator for Europe, Tim Jones, and the MedWet Coordinator, Thymio Papayannis, in a group photograph at the Lake Karla site.