An ideal coastal system for integrating ecological coastal studies with regional economy and management
The University's location on the south coast of Greece provides an ideal location for the study of costal risk assessment and management. On our doorstep we have internationally important wildlife, high density urban development. The University's well-established research units in coastal and aquatic management also underpin the course. This all provides for a stimulating and academically rigorous, interdisciplinary course, managed by the Faculty of Science and the School of Biology.
Students will have the opportunity to make their own practise in the Thermaikos Gulf Coastal System. It is located in the NW Aegean Sea eastern Mediterranean Sea. This coastal system belongs to the southern flank of the Alpine orogenic belt, located within the humid mesothermal climatic zone and within an essentially tideless marine environment. The coastal system is divided into two principal components: a) the terrestrial sub-system; and b) the oceanic sub-system. The terrestrial sub-system consists of the hinterland and the sub-aerial part of the coastal zone; the former represents mainly the catchment areas of the rivers discharging along the coastline of Thermaikos Gulf, while the latter consists mostly of the deltaic plains, the coastal plains and cliffs.
The Thermaikos Gulf forms the north-west Aegean continental shelf and it is a typical deltaic platform. Four rivers (Axios, Loudias, Aliakmon, Pinios) constitute the major sources of material input into the marine system of the Thermaikos Gulf. Thermaikos Gulf is the biggest source of farmed mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) in Greece, representing the 88% of the country’s cultivated sea area and 80-85% of the total national production. The farms are being located in two major areas, NW of the Gulf of Thessaloniki, Chalastra (inner Thermaikos Gulf-the area under consideration for the Policy Issue) and NW of Thermaikos Gulf (estuary area of Axios- Loudias-Aliakmon rivers). Mussel farming is an activity that takes place at the area for more than 25 years, occupying an important percentage of the local population, with the mussel production of Chalastra area exceeding the 12.000tn/yr. The sea area is part of the protected area of the estuary (under the Ramsar convection) but the mussel farming is an activity compatible to the natural environment, and thus a compatible activity to the protection status. The last years, due to several reasons, as the increase of the population of the greater area of the County of Thessaloniki, the development of other Human Activities (H.A.’s: agricultural & industrial activities) and the intense increase of the mussel farming at the area, there has been an important modification to the natural environment of the Gulf that leaded to a decline of the mussel production with socioeconomic impacts to the local population (decline of mussel farmers income, unemployment, not authorized expansions of mussel cultures, negative advertisement of the products to local and international markets, etc). Further, the coastal system under investigation in particular, the coastal zone accommodates more than 1 million people associated with a variety of economic activities e.g. agriculture, industry, and trade. Here, the county of Thessaloniki has been established as the second most important following the province of Athens socio-economic region of Greece, lying between some of the most important areas of the southern Balkans peninsula. Accordingly the Thermaikos Gulf Coastal System offers an ideal system for practical and applying projects relating to environmental risk assessment and marine recourses management.
Explore the biodiversity of Axios Delta-A natural treasure at the edge of town
The Axios Delta is a relatively natural Mediterranean Delta found on the western shoreline of the Thermaikos Gulf and it is one of the most important wetlands in Greece. It is the Axios - Loudias - Aliakmonas Estuaries National Park, consisting of the deltas of the Axios and Aliakmonas rivers, the estuaries of the Gallikos and Loudias rivers, the Kalohori lagoon, the Nea Agathoupoli marsh and the Alyki Kitrous lagoon. It is a large complex wetland system with a total surface area of around 320 sq. kms. Thanks to the great diversity of ecological conditions –ranging from extensive ricefields, grasslands and riparian forests to salty marshes and swamps- the area makes an ideal habitat for many species of wild animals and plants.
The delta is now part of the European network of biological importance (Natura 2000), which means that Greece is legally obligated to maintain its natural values. In 2008-2009, FOS assisted the Management Authority – a multi-stakeholder platform for official decision-making – with the development of a strategic framework for action. The framework is well-anchored in Natura 2000 habitat and species obligations and includes prioritized strategies for threat abatement. The approach has sparked the interest of other Management Authorities in Greece. Local partners hope to work around the current economic situation and find ways to keep building capacity and planning for the adaptive management of Greek Natura 2000 sites. Almost at the outskirts of Thessalonica (18 km) begins a large alluvial area formed by the extremities of Axios River with the riverside vegetation, elms, willows and bushes. Many bird species such as swans, ducks, egrets and many cormorants stay herefor the winter. There are also large surfaces of rice fields and rich fishing fields and oyster farming facilities at the shallow waters of Delta extremities.
The Delta of Axios can be visited throughout the year and one can find taverns serving mussels, fish, etc. The mouth of Axios was previously 10 kilometers BA from its current position, near the estuary of Gallikos river, in the western mouth of the port of Thessaloniki. The risk, however, to close the port of Thessaloniki from illuviations, led to the diversion of the watercourse which was begun in 1928 and completed in 1934. Thus the mouth moved from the mouth of the harbor at the mouth of the bay of Thessaloniki, near the mouth of the river Loudia. In the Valtochori region it has been built the dam, Ellis, a length of 1,132 meters, with the waters of which are irrigated with open canals (kanaletta) approximately 330,000 gross acres of agricultural land. The old River Delta eroded by the sea, but the mixing of saltwater with fresh water created a new Delta, which today is considered one of the most important wetlands of international importance. In 1954 it has began the construction of the dam of Axios in Eleoussa which came into full operation in 1962, serving the plain of Thessaloniki, east and west of the riverbed. With two pipelines, water diverted to irrigation networks, which watered until recent years, 125,000 acres east and west 225,000. Today, 35,000 acres are watered by the Aliakmonas river and the dam Eleoussa, which gives 25 cubic water per second, watering 320,000 acres. The largest proportion of crops are rice, processed tomatoes, cotton, corn and vegetable small areas.The wetlands area of the delta of the Axios, Loudias and Aliakmonas rivers is not uniform in all its stretch, but it consists of smaller parts with special characteristics each. A key role in these areas located between the land and the sea is played by the presence of water (surface, underground, permanent, seasonal) as well as its salinity. These aspects affect the vegetation creating characteristic areas, resulting in the formation of plants adjusted to the sand, plants resilient to salt, salt bushes, rushes, water plants and riverside tree vegetion.