FLAMINGOS, SAMOS & THE DECLINING HEALTH OF PROTECTED HABITATS….
Ever since I was a small child I have wanted to see a flamingo in the wild – they’re pink and have the most elegantly long legs and neck, what’s not to love? The closest I had ever come to seeing them was as statues in elderly people’s gardens in the 1980’s, that was until the autumn of 2011.
Four years ago today, whilst volunteering with Archipelagos Institute of Marine & Environmental Research, I heard that the Psili Ammos salt marsh, Paralia Alyki, was a stopping point for migrating greater flamingos(Phoenicopterus roseus). With this information, I set about getting myself from Ormos in the south of the island of Samos to Psili Ammos in the east, by hitching the first ride I could find – with a team of researchers surveying the area for golden jackals (Canis aureus).
I arrived at the Alyki salt marsh on dusk and was transfixed – I could see that there were indeed flamingos present in the wetland. I excitedly jumped out of the car and was promptly met by a cloud of mosquitos. This resulted in me slapping exposed parts of my body rapidly for the next five minutes whilst I frantically tried to cover up as much of my body as possible. (I am still amazed that this slap-dancing frenzy didn’t scare the flamingos away from the wetland forever.)
As I made my way into the salt marsh area, the mosquito blight subsided – either that or my fascination and awe at seeing these most spectacular birds resting and feeding helped me to ignore the mosquitos.
The Psili Ammos salt marsh was actively used for salt production until 1965, and a number of the structures associated with this activity are still dotted around the site.
This area, identified as Paralia Alyki has been protected under the Habitats Directive as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) since September 2006 and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) since March 2011. SCI’s are sites that have been adopted by the European Commission but have not been designated by the government of the country in which the site lies. SACs are sites that have been adopted by the European Commission and formally designated by the government of the country in which the site lies.
There were approximately 70 individual birds at the wetland on this evening, significantly fewer individuals than previous years. Locals advised that the flamingos used to breed in the wetland, but haven’t done since the early 2000’s. Is the quality of the environment declining regardless of the protection status?
It is claimed that the health of the salt marsh has been declining after the creation of the main road in the vicinity of the wetland, but other suggestions are that the health of the salt marsh has been declining since salt production activities stopped, as salt water is entering the wetland less frequently. Salt water is only entering this wetland after very large tidal events as there is only one small channel running under the sealed road. Human activity is seen to usually reduce biodiversity, but it could be argued that the health of the salt marsh has been steadily declining since commercial salt production activities ceased, and therefore human intervention could have been contributing to the health of this environment.
This year, 2015 the European Commission has been undertaking a ‘Fitness Check’ of the EU nature protection legislation. The aim of this exercise is to examine the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, relevance and added value that EU action has made. The results of this exercise are expected to be presented in early 2016. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this exercise and future management of protected sites.