Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest in Europe and is shared by Albania and the FYR of Macedonia. It preserves a rich capital of natural and cultural heritage, including a unique aquatic ecosystem that is of worldwide importance, with more than 200 endemic species, as well as rich historical and archaeological elements, impressive traditional practices and unique intangible heritage.
Read more here about Ohrid lake, a unique transboundary site.
“You have a natural jewel in your hands. You should be very proud, but also very careful with it’’, says Prof. Dr. Jos Verhoeven, from the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS), encapsulating how beauty and responsibility are intrinsically entwined in the UNESCO Ohrid region.
To reinforce the protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem, the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) held its European Conference 2018 (#SWSEuro2018) from April 30 to May 4 in Ohrid.
Around fifty experts in wetland ecosystems from all over the world were participating in the conference in order to exchange up-to-date information on the state of wetland ecosystems and to offer solutions to the challenges that modern land management and urbanization impose on these, unfortunately neglected, but still essential parts of our environment.
During the Conference, more than 30 papers were presented on the role of wetland ecosystems, their values and the services they offer. Patrick Grillas, from Tour du Valat, presented “The contribution of seed bank mapping to conservation programs: The case of Lythrum thesioides.” (Antoine Gazaix ,Patrick Grillas, Perrine Gauthier & John Thompson).
The Conference issued the official Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem. It outlines how to plan to tackle the key threats to these ecosystems and urges decision makers to take efficient steps to safeguard and ensure the wise use of their important habitats.
Highlighting the importance of wetlands in Ohrid
The Declaration reinforces the message about the integral importance, value and ecosystem services of Studenchishte Marsh, the final intact marsh on Ohrid Lake’s shore, that the local Macedonian citizen initiative Ohrid SOS has been emphasizing continuously for years.
It emphasizes that the Ohrid Lake and its associated Prespa Lake have an exceptional value due to the richness of their biodiversity and the incomparable continuity of development during at least 1.6 million years that has led to the creation of a unique environment for the research of climate and evolution as well as the evolution of many endemic species.
“I’ve been around Europe. I know Europe and what you have here is quite special. You are obliged to protect it” — Dr Rory Harrington, Department of Heritage, Environment and Local Government (Waterford, Ireland) speaks about Lake Ohrid.
Call for authorities to further protect the Ohrid Lake
With this Declaration, SWS calls upon the Macedonian authorities at local and national level to significantly improve the protection of the Ohrid Lake, including the Studenchishte Marsh and its catchment. It also stresses the urgent need to prepare and implement an action plan for the protection of the Studenchishte Marsh and its revitalization, and it calls for a substantial revision of water management practices around the Ohrid Lake.
The Mayor of Ohrid, Prof. Dr. Stojanoski has shown willingness with a commitment to implementation of expert recommendations and to establish protection for Studenchishte Marsh. He said: “In our political program we clearly defined the protection of the marsh as our goal by the end of 2018’’.
Ohrid Lake: a future natural tourism destination
The Declaration called on also the Municipality of Ohrid to develop multiple nature tourism attractions in the area in order to increase revenues by offering more diverse options and extending the tourist season, a strategy in which Studenchishte Marsh as a nature park can play a pivotal role.
“You need a sustainable strategy to make sure the marsh shines in the future”, suggests Dr. Jos Verhoeven (SWS), explaining how Macedonian wetland superstar can shine even brighter in the coming years.
But if not well managed, tourism development can put pressure on the natural resources of Lake Ohrid, especially when the level of visitor use is greater than the lake’s ability to cope with it. In this context, Dr. Verhoeven, setting a challenge for Mayor Stojanoski and policy-makers in the FYR of Macedonia, adds: “It’s your challenge to work with the increasing number of tourists without destroying resources, since preserving resources creates more income”.
In this context, the Mayor of Ohrid said: “We are dedicated to making Studenchishte Marsh an open museum for interaction with nature and creating a new authentic and attractive tourist product“.
Lake Ohrid: a future Ramsar Site
The Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem serves as another compelling reason for Macedonian authorities to proceed with designation of Lake Ohrid and Studenchishte as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention; to finalize valorization of Studenchishte Marsh; and not just to protect the latter’s full extent, but also to extend its size.
According to an Ohrid SOS compilation of existing research submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Macedonian Ramsar Committee, Lake Ohrid passes eight of nine Ramsar criteria. In addition, during their conference visit, two members of SWS surveyed the Studenchishte area for a brief study that can be used to facilitate the nomination process.
“We call upon the Macedonian authorities to substantially enhance the protection of Studenchishte Marsh and designate it as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention”, said the SWS representativers, reiterating the organization’s position on the appropriate direction for Lake Ohrid’s underrated “nature dynamo”.
Nonetheless, the size of the Studenchishte area to be protected is still to be guaranteed and many locations with outstanding biodiversity in the FYR of Macedonia could inspire follow-up from the authorities for a possible designation as Ramsar Sites.
Field visit to the Studenchishte Marsh
As part of the meeting’s programme, the participants in #SWSEuro2018 visited the Studenchishte Marsh, which is the last remains of a previously extensive wetland habitat on the eastern shore of ancient Lake Ohrid in the FYR of Macedonia.
It was an excellent opportunity to discover the rare and unique biodiversity at this wetland, with over 50 species of birds still recorded there, the small populations of rare plants that continue to populate it, and the 14 fish species living in the Studenchishte Channel.
Read more about the sights of Studenchishte Marsh here.
More details about the conference on the Ohris SOS website.
Download the Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem.