According to articles 1 and 2 of the Ramsar Convention (02/02/1971, Ramsar, Iran), wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. In addition, for the purpose of protecting coherent sites, wetlands to be included in the Ramsar List of internationally important wetlands may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands
Wetlands provide tremendous economic benefits, for example: water supply (quantity and quality); fisheries (over two thirds of the world’s fish harvest is linked to the health of coastal and inland wetland areas); agriculture, through the maintenance of water tables and nutrient retention in floodplains; timber production; energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; wildlife resources; transport; and recreation and tourism opportunities. They are assets for mankind that provide humans with the necessary conditions to live, progress and create.
Lefkada is a small place, just 325 sq km in extent, which hosts a network of wetlands that are recognised and charted by the WWF Greece program “Greek Islands’ Wetlands Protection”, a 2007 program that is an extension of a 2004 program concerning the Aegean Sea.
There are 12 wetlands listed on the island:
- Lagoons of the town of Lefkada (Avlemonas and Palionis)
- Old Saltpans – Saltpans of Alexandros
- Pond of Karya (located at the meadow of Karya)
- Estuary of the stream Dimosaris (It is located between Nydri and Perigiali)
- Swamp of the valley of Komilio (It is located to the east, close to the village and has water during the winter months)
- Estuary of the stream of Kako Lagkadi (It is located on the western part of the island, at the location of Potisies, just outside Agios Nikitas)
- Gulf of Vlyho (It is located on the eastern part of the island, near Nydri and is a big natural harbour. It hosts many species of birds)
- Estuary of the stream of Vasiliki (It is located outside the port of Vasiliki, to the west of the village)
- Lake of Marantohori
- Swamp of Akoni in Meganisi (It is a seasonal salt marsh)
- Swamp of Elia in Meganisi (It is a seasonal salt marsh)
- Swamp of Grilia in Meganisi (It is located on the way to Agios Ioannis, to the southeast of the island. It is surrounded by a fertile wet meadow with bulrushes which are replaced by Schinus shrubs and other thickets further away from the coast. There are also wild mints)
Since June 2012, four of the aforementioned wetlands in Lefkada (the swamp of the valley of Komilio, the estuary of the stream of Kako Lagkadi, the estuary of the stream of Vasiliki and the lake of Marantohori) and all three wetlands in Meganisi have been protected by the Ministry of Energy and Climate Change by Presidential Decree.
The lagoons of Lefkada
The lagoons Palionis and Avlemonas, east and north of the town of Lefkada respectively, are included in the Natura 2000 network with the code number GR22400001, form one of the biggest wetlands of Western Greece and are part of the water biotope of the Amvrakikos Gulf, according to the Ramsar Convention. The convention was singed at the city of Ramsar in Iran on the 2nd of February 1971 where the founding conference was held with the participation of 7 representative states, including Greece. There they drafted and signed the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat” that entered into force on the 21st of December 1975 and up to now has been signed by 122 countries. The list of Wetlands of International Importance includes 1035 wetlands, with a total area of 78.2 million hectares. The lagoon of the straits of Lefkada is a specifically protected area according to the Directive 79/409/EEC, the Barcelona Convention and the Greek Legislation, characterised as a site of outstanding natural beauty (Greek Government Gazette 687/B/24-5-76)
It is a very important wetland with rich flora, fauna and especially fowls, with lots of bird species, including migratory ones. The lagoons consist of brackish and salt waters, swamps with brackish water, salt marshes and sandy areas with sand dunes.
There is an indigenous plant species called Arenaria leucadia. There is also Salicornia europaea (also known as “armyrithra”) that becomes red on the coasts during the autumn months, several halophytes, tamarisks, bacteria and algae. There are also many “sea lettuces” (Ulva lactuca), several species of hydrophilic plants (reeds), mainly Arundo and Phragmites. On the surrounding hills, there are fig trees, Schinus shrubs, weaver’s brooms, heathers, spurges, aromatic herbaceous plants etc.
In the waters with the peculiar conditions (shallow waters, muddy sea bottom, temperature and salt content fluctuations etc) there are water worms, water snails (gastropods), bivalves (molluscs), crustaceans (shrimps), crabs, small jellyfish and fish (gilt-head sea breams, sea basses, flathead grey mullets, eels, soles, bullheads, annular sea breams, white sea breams). Some of the fish live only in the lagoon.
Furthermore there are lots of amphibians (especially Rana ridibunda frogs) and serpents, (four-lined snakes and skinks)
The birds that gather in the lagoons are of great importance. The birdlife of the water biotope includes sea crows, herons, glossy ibises, shelducks, green-headed ducks and, of course, seagulls and pelicans. During the winter months there are also flamingos and swans that prefer the temperate climate.
One particularly characteristic feature of the western lagoon is the “Ivari”, a part of the lagoon separated with reed screens, in which fishing is being done by traditional means. It was created in 1700 and was owned by the Zampelis family. Later on it was given to the town’s hospital and in the end to the Municipality of Lefkada. The word “Ivari” (or “divari”) is probably of Latin origin (“vivarium”). The fish are being naturally fed, with minimum human intervention. The “Ivari” is very important for Lefkada because this is the place of collecting and processing of the famous roe that comes from the female grey mullet also known as “mpafa”.
Finally, we should underline the beauty of the “Ivari” and the lagoons all day long, but especially early in the morning and during the sunset.
Saltpans of Alexandros
The first Saltpans started working during the period of Tocci in the island and salt trade was mentioned for the first in 1415. They were located near the area of nowadays Marina of Lefkada and measured 500,000 square metres in total area. They consisted of 26 crystallisers or saltpans and supplied Venice as well as other cities with salt. They stopped producing in 1948.
The New Saltpans of Alexandros were created by the Venetians in 1688 at the present-day village of Karyotes, across the islet of Forti (Fort Alexandros) and measured 54,000 square metres in area and 34 basins. They ceased production in 1989. You can reach rte remains of the New Saltpans of Alexandros if you turn left on the way to the beach of Karyotes a little before the middle of the village. There is the small chapel of Agios Panteleimon.
In 1993 the site of the Saltpans and also the fortifications of Fort Alexandros (Forti) and Fort Konstantinos (Fortino) were declared protected historical monuments.
The Saltpans are wetlands of great significance. The Saltpans of Alexandros are located at the beach of the village Karyotes. Because all kinds of environmental conditions coexist within the area, the Saltpans allow the population growth of a few species that are specialised in inhospitable, extreme environments and contribute to the expansion of biodiversity. Therefore, the island’s Saltpans are amongst the most important wetlands for birds. The main types of prevailing flora are phytoplankton, algae as well as halophytes.
Lake of Marantohori
It is located at southern Lefkada between the villages of Marantohori, Vournikas and Kontarena. It is a natural lake with above water and arboreal vegetation, surrounded by “walls” of thorn bushes that protect it. It is the only natural lake on the island with rich flora and fauna.