Saturday, May 6, 2017

Coastal nature conservation in Qatar

I have spent only a few days in the wilds of Qatar but I am sure anyone wanting an escape can find nature there. This small country does have a wonderful wilderness desert and subtropical beaches - even bird-rich wetland oases. Fuwairit beach is one of the dozen or so lagoons with mangroves, its well worth a visit in the northern part of Qatar.

Here I share some photos I took during one of our most exciting expeditions (April 24th to 28th, 2013). Please read our paper on the birds of the coastal area of Fuwairit for a scientific conservation opinion of things: 

And please, if you live in the Gulf, get involved in nature conservation. 

Doha - Like any other middle eastern city.

Research camp at Fuwairit Lagoon 2013.

Famous for its sea turtles.

Helping build the researchers' and volunteers' lodgings on Fuwairit beach. Temporary but luxourious!

Fuwairit beach, tide receding.

Fuwairit lagoons mangroves. Young, regenerating fast. An oasis. 

Migrant leaf warbler on the mangrove.

Migrant Acrocephalus warbler on mangrove.

Tiny bubble crab diggings in the Fuwairit mangrove.
Fuwairit lagoon's mangrove channels. Although a very small place, it gives an exotic tropical feel. 

I watched grey mullet, niddlefish, toothcarps and many other fishes surge with the tidal water through the mangrove.

The shallow marine waters of Fuwairit are a fun place for a snorkel tour. Tropical marine life abounds. 

Although there are very few rocky or coral structures in the shallows, some fish, crabs and cuttlefish are easily seen. These are cardinal fishes.

Sea grass beds are interesting. They also attract fish, like these Mojarras. 

At the country's northern tip is the Al Shamal area, a fascinating spit and dune island system with extensive tidal wetlands and mangroves. 
Al Shamal spit with beach dune vegetation. 

Flowering Grey Mangrove.
Fascinating parasite Cistanche sp. - it lives off the roots of Arthrocnemum
Salt marsh plant.
West coast, somewhere near Ras Abrouq. Interesting formations and a remarkable tide.
On Qatar's west coast the beaches are sometime full of tiny shells. 
Qatar's west coast beaches.

Sunrise at Fuwarit research camp.

Finally, if you are interested in our work in the area you can download our first report below. We had mixed results with the local authorities. We sincerely hope they continue working for conservation.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Anyone seen a giant water bug in Greece?

The Giant Water Bug, Lethocerus patruelis (Stål, 1855), is a huge aquatic insect belonging to the family Belostomatidae. It is the only species of this family living in Europe, where it is known from the Balkans (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, FYROM, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey) and perhaps Hungary (doubtful) (Polhemus 1995; Protić 1998; Perez Goodwyn 2006; Fent et al. 2011). It has only recently been recorded in Italy (Bacchi & Rizzotti Vlach 2005). It is said to have a "chorotype" restricted to the Indo-Mediterranean, with exclusion of North Africa and the W-Mediterranean (see Vigna Taglianti et al. 1999). (I guess chorotype refers to its natural biogeographical range....anyway...).

However, although I am not an expert - little is known about the bug in Greece.If anyone has any sightings of this species from Greece especially the south or the islands we would be interested.

My personal experience, as a bird and fish enthousiast (not an entomologist) is that they are commoner in the North of Greece (using ricefields, lowland wetland areas). I have seen them in Dadia, Evros (see photos below), Lyra (Evros) and once in the Kefallonia (a museum specimen in fact). I have friends who have seen them as far south as the Sperchios - where they may be common. Whatever the case, I think they are not abundant or even common in the southern half of the country. For many years for example in the Amvrakikos I did not see one (although I think it has been mentioned to exist there). Also I have never seen or know of anyone how has seen the species in small wetlands. It could be vulnerable to dessication of wetlands - who knows...

Anyway we should start treating bugs, fascinating bugs like this, as important biodiversity indicators - and people can participate.

As the cyberworld grows there are interesting citizen-support tools for identification and dissemination from amateurs see this:

Also as I was recently informed by Bulgarian scientists:

An article published in the open access journal Zookeys provides detailed information on karyotype, the chromosome behavior, and the male reproductive system of the largest European water insect Lethocerus patruelis. Interesting insights into the life habits and the distribution of the species on the Balkans are also presented. During the last ten years, there are many new records of this species in Southern Bulgaria, perhaps providing evidence that the giant water bug is expanding its territory northwards. Such a wide and abundant distribution of the species in these regions would be a further sign of the recent changes of European bug fauna caused by climate change and an important clue for the effects of global warming. For more information see: Grozeva, S. et al. (2013) Sex chromosome pre-reduction in male meiosis of Lethocerus patruelis (Stål, 1854) (Heteroptera, Belostomatidae) with some notes on the distribution of the species. ZooKeys 319 (Special issue: Advances in Hemipterology): 119-135 (doi: 10.3897/zookeys.319.4384)

One last thing: 
The East Asian closely related species is well known as an edible species in a number of different Southeast Asian cuisines. Internet sources say the insect tastes like scallops or shrimp.

Lethocerus patruelis in the village of Dadia, Evros (Northeastern Greece, Summer 2009).

Lethocerus patruelis as found by me under a streat light in the village of Dadia (Summer 2009).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Koumoundourou: How polluted is it?

December 2016
Koumoundourou Lake, Attika - near Athens

An uniquely complex site for conservation and restoration is the tiny spring-fed lagoon of Koumoundourou Lake, just 10 or so km west of Athens. It is notorious for its polluted waters- some of the waters polluted from subterranean connections in the aquifer - oil refineries, huge landfill sites and other polluters are nearby. 

Hydrocarbons from the oil industry have been a serious problem and refineries are located right next door. When I was a kid my father used to talk to me about the lake's fish since we had a second home nearby at Eleusis.  Yes, the wetland is connected to the Eleusis mysteries....This sacred wetland was a famous fish-gathering lagoon since ancient times, in fact. Now after the mid '90s - in an effort to stop the seepage of polluted groundwater the water levels have been heightened through the creation of a sluice at the lagoon's outlet to the sea. Increased water levels seem to have change the hydrology and the seepage of oils and polluted groundwaters. But the movement of migratory fishes is nearly totally blocked. Based on anecdotes from local fishermen, several grey mullet species (Mugilidae), a blenny species (Blennidae), sea bass (Dicentrarchus sp.), sand smelt (Atherina sp.) and guilt-head bream (Sparus auratus) used to inhabit Koumoundourou Lake. Now only three species are left, primarily dominated by the alien Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)!!

Our research team at HCMR has been working for many years on this area and doing careful monitoring. Locals and local environmentalists are also concerned and spearheading campaigns for the conservation and protection from pollution. But its not just pollution. The whole ecosystem needs careful planning, adaptive management towards restoration. We recently published a diagnosis and specific proposals for incremental steps towards restoration.

Please see the paper:


Wetland inside an  industrial heartland. Can it be restored? And how?

The small lagoon has been a target for monitoring - everything from chemistry, ichthyology and ornithology...

Nutrients (a) and heavy metals (b) concentration fluctuations at Koumoundourou Lake near the weir (average annual values for the period 1984–2012). Pollution is showing a decline. We think this is due to the increased water levels created by an artificial weir in the mid '90s.   
Eels still enter the lagoon but their movement is blocked by the c. 2 m. height weir so their numbers are low. This is one eel that I caught at a nearby wetland and kept in our aquarium for some time - feeding it Gambusia holbrooki (Eastern Mosquito fish) which we gathered from Koumoundourou!
Mediterranean kiillifish (aka Mediterranean toothcarp) - Aphanius fasciatus - these males are from the Vourkari Wetland just west of Koumoundourou Lake. Koumoundourou Lake also has a small relict population. In fact, in the whole of the Attika peninsula there are only three sites supporting this locally vulnerable fish. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

European Ecosystem Services Converence, Antwerp 2016

University of Antwerp, Antwerp Belgium, Sept 19th to 23th 2016

This conference was planned to be the biggest European event in 2016 that will link science, policy and practice on ecosystem services and natural capital! With a strong focus on practice and implementation - it definitely was a unique experience for me. It was planned to showcase knowledge and research, share working examples from science, business, land management, policy and local practice. And it delivered - It was a success!

Our group from Greece and Cyprus included my friends from the Univ of Patras, Panayotis, Ioannis and Vasso and Marina too. We met many many people - wonderful experience for all of us. 

Big conference, new friends, new knowledge.

See abstracts and organizing forces:

See our abstract presented on the second day of the conference:

National Park Hoge Kempen, Belgium

Sept 19-23, 2016, Belgium

During the Ecosystem Services Conference in Atwerp we had a great field trip to a unique protected area. Guided by Johan Van Den Bosch, the park's project leader, we learned so much about the new protected area, its history and challanges.
I share some snapshots here. 

The Hoge Kempen National Park is a unique nature area, covering more than 5700 ha of woodlands and heathland, all protected and managed by the Flemish Government’s Agency for Nature and Forestry. It is a “natural success story”: the former mine-lands have been turned in to a protected area - the nation's largest. Huge coal mine slag heeps have become lovely grassland hills full of wildlflowers and butterflies. The National Park officially kicked off on March 23rd, 2006. In the meantime, 6 gateways have been developed as starting areas for a visit to this enchanting area. Not-for-profit organizations and government work together  to develop durable, nature orientated tourism in and around this natural area. The balance between NATURE – PEOPLE – TOURISM should help conservation, restoration, regeneration of biodiversity. What we saw was a re-wilding in the making - it looked great!

We saw this common beauty but I could not take  a photo. This is form: