This morning PONT was at the offices of the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP) in the Prespa National Park in Greece, where the partners together signed their new five-year grant agreement for PONT’s support to the SPP’s strategic framework for biodiversity conservation in Prespa. The SPP team gathered to welcome PONT and discuss the programme, and both sides look forward to continuing their fruitful collaboration for the benefit of Prespa.
Interested in finding out what the SPP has been doing with support from PONT? Read on to find out just a few of the highlights of their conservation programme their dedicated team carried out in 2022!
Long-anticipated historic Prespa Park meetings take place
At the end of June, the SPP was proud to witness a milestone event for achieving its long-term aim of formal interstate collaboration in the Prespa basin. After many years of effort and support from the SPP, this highly ambitious goal came to fruition when the inaugural meetings of the Prespa Park Management Committee and the Working Group on Water Management finally took place at the meeting place of the borders shared by Albania, Greece and North Macedonia, on the shores of the Prespa lakes.
These truly historic meetings took place 22 years after the establishment of the transboundary Prespa Park and 12 since the Agreement on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park Area was signed by the three states and the European Commission (EC). Representatives of the EC, the three environment ministries, local authorities, protected area authorities and environmental NGOs, represented by the SPP and its PrespaNet partners, met amidst an extremely positive atmosphere and took the first steps towards cementing efforts for the conservation of biodiversity, water management and sustainable development in transboundary Prespa.
The worst wildlife disaster in Greece – outbreak of bird flu in Prespa’s Dalmatian pelicans
The first half of 2022 was tragically marked by mass deaths in Prespa’s Dalmatian pelican colony, caused by an outbreak of avian influenza, with fatalities also recorded in most of their south-eastern European breeding range. The effect on the Lesser Prespa Lake colony was particularly devastating. By the end of April, 1,734 Dalmatian pelicans had died, representing around 60% of the colony and a staggering loss, making it the worst wildlife disaster ever to take place in Greece, though fortunately no great white pelicans or other waterbirds were significantly affected.
During the outbreak, the SPP urgently responded in order to accurately document the mortality rate in Prespa and at other Greek wetlands, as well as to mobilise the authorities to remove the dead birds from the colonies to try and reduce the viral load for new arrivals, while also alerting local, regional, and international partners. In the aftermath of the outbreak, around 100 Dalmatian pelican pairs eventually managed to nest and raised approximately 90 young during the 2022 breeding period – the lowest number of nests recorded in Prespa since the 1980s.
The SPP has already initiated research to evaluate the disease and immunological situation and to better understand why Dalmatian pelicans have been more susceptible than great white pelicans, whilst also putting in place preparations for responding to any further outbreak during the 2023 breeding season and beyond. While no cases have yet been seen this year, the team remain on high alert on behalf of this beloved and iconic species, as it is still early in the breeding season.
Prespa’s river, streams and riparian zones – “Green and Blue Lifelines”
We’re excited to share the news that the SPP has just kicked off a new three-year project on a vital and integral part of the wider wetland environment – the river, streams and riparian zones of Prespa. The project, co-funded by the Donors’ Initiative for Mediterranean Freshwater Ecosystems (DIMFE) and PONT, is very aptly called “Prespa’s Green and Blue Lifelines”. The SPP’s commitment to this work reflects a watershed-wide wetland landscape approach, from mountaintop springs to the lakes, via the river and streams and their riparian zones, as each small part is indeed a ‘lifeline’ contributing to the health of the whole.
As we can see all too clearly around us, Prespa faces the imperative issue of climate change, which is having a tangible and alarming impact, with too little winter snowfall and subsequent extensive droughts throwing carefully built efforts to balance water needs into difficulties. So, the SPP is bringing greater attention to the waters feeding into the lakes from the mountains and Prespa’s wooded streams and rivers, in order to secure water quantity as well as improve its quality. These very important linear habitats are tiny in area, but vital for the health of the wetland and crucial in their own right, too.
PoliPrespa – A Journey to a Dream!
PoliPrespa has been an important aspect of the SPP’s work over the last four years; a project in which all of the different groups and interests in Prespa have come together to work for a sustainable future. One of the highlights of PoliPrespa’s final year has been the success of its ambitious youth networking project entitled “THES-PRES, a Journey to a Dream”. Twelve youngsters from Prespa, Ptolemaida and Thessaloniki, under the guidance of two co-ordinators, worked intensively together to bring to life their own adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Their hard work paid off with a polished performance, proudly presented to the public to great acclaim in late July – a networking, capacity-building and confidence-raising success for all of the young people who took part, whether onstage or behind the scenes.
The activity represented so much of what PoliPrespa set out to achieve, investing in the social and cultural capital of Prespa, introducing its young people to new experiences and ideas to widen their horizons, and feeding all this positive energy back into the local community to a highly positive reception. The PoliPrespa project closed at the end of 2022 but has made an indelible mark on Prespa in every aspect of its work – social, environmental, economic – and leaves a strong legacy on which to build further in the coming years.