Ohrid SOS is a Citizen Initiative that started after the Public Discussion about a Draft report on strategic environmental assessment for amendments to the general urban plan for Ohrid 2014-2024 that took place on 16th of January 2015. According to this document prepared by the Civil Engineering Institute “Macedonia”, commissioned by the Municipality of Ohrid and approved by the Macedonian Ministry of Environment, in over 80% of the conclusions it is explicitly stated that any activity in UB 17.1 (Studenchishte Marsh) will directly and negatively affect the uniqueness of the whole ecosystem. This draft report also says that in terms of the intended amending of the UB 17.1, there is no measure that would reduce the harmful impact directly on Studenchishte Marsh and indirectly on the lake, except non implementation.
In layman’s terms, we started this Initiative when we first heard of the local government’s plans to urbanize the Studenchishte Marsh – a lush wetland with a unique ecosystem that serves as a natural filter to Lake Ohrid.
Why is Studenchishte Marsh so important!?
According to the Index of endemic biodiversity (Wilke, T. et al. [eds.] (2008) Patterns and Processes of Speciation in Ancient Lakes, Developments in Hydrobiology 205), Ohrid Lake with its 212 endemic species is classified as one of the most important water ecosystem in the world. In national legislation the lake was declared a monument of nature which should remain unchanged. Moreover, Lake Ohrid is one of fifty deepest lakes in the world that are considered a museum of living fossils as well as endemic and rare species. Studenchishte Marsh, should not be looked at separately from the lake because it is actually an integral part of the lake and as such is in continuous communication with. Any violate disruption of biodiversity in the marshes also threatens the lake. Studenchishte Marsh is one of the last wetland ecosystems in Macedonia, and according to a Strategy and Action Plan for Biodiversity adopted by the Macedonian Parliament, all national wetlands are considered important sites. The document should be a guide by which to harmonize all further activities for the protection, management and rehabilitation of wetland habitats.
Evaluation of the biological values of Studenchishte Marsh was performed by analyzing the presence of plant and animal species, as well as significant plant communities. International documents that were used: Global Red List of IUCN (IUCN, 2009), the European Red List, the Habitats Directive of the EU (Habitat Directive), Directive on the birds of the EU, the Bern Convention and the Emerald lists, the Bonn Convention, and the criteria for determination of significant areas for butterflies, and The National Biodiversity Strategy for Biodiversity in the Republic of Macedonia with its action plan.
Studenchishte Marsh stretched over 60 hectares at one point, and the total area today is about 25 acres. There are promises that space will be provided for the revitalization of the destroyed Studenchishte Marsh. But, the structural changes that will lead up to the implementation of the planned infrastructure projects in the swamp will significantly change the current state of the marshes ecosystem and further act as an added value in terms of the negative impact already observed from the implementation and operation of the previously implemented projects. Consequently, projects planned in the area should consider the cumulative impact. The expansion of Racha and construction of elite neighborhoods and hotels, road construction in addition to the planned construction activities near the marshes will significantly increase the anthropogenic pressure on the lake in this part (additional nutrient intake, noise, dust, etc.).
According to a Study about the condition of the remaining Studenchishte Marsh, the marsh is: (a) a typical example of evolution, (b) explains the key changes in the development of nature, (c) has small geographical distribution, (d) is inhabited by rare or endangered species, (d) parts of the marsh are preserved (in original condition), (f) a testimony of great importance for the study of natural processes, (f) as a phenomenon is unique and rare, (g) there are cultural and recreational values, and (i) in the scientific and technical community is recognized as an object of protection, among other things, and the fact that this is a remnant of former wetland systems on the territory of the Republic Macedonia that are dying. Reducing / taking surface of the marsh will change the quantity and quality of ground surface water, and its main function (natural purifier of the lake), which is also the most serious threat to biodiversity and the marsh and lake.
The Study about the condition of the remaining Studenchishte Marsh clearly states that “… the intended amendment of the UB 17.1 Studenchishte Marsh, will directly and negatively affect the uniqueness of the whole ecosystem.” The impact of the new changes will be direct, cumulative and long-term for the biodiversity, soil, water, air, microclimate. In the study- the only positive aspect in terms of urbanization of the marshes are socio-economic benefits or job creation as it would attract many investors to this location.
A UNESCO protected site
In 1979, the UNESCO Committee decided to inscribe the Ohrid Lake on the World Heritage List under natural criteria (iii). In 1980, this property was extended to include the cultural and historical area, and cultural criteria (i)(iii)(iv) were added (source).
However the new amendments to the general urban plan for the city of Ohrid 2014- 2024 will urbanize and change the overall look of the city under UNESCO. In accordance with paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, the UNESCO body responsible for the adoption of the relevant documentation, in this case the Municipality of Ohrid, is obligated to send an official letter to the Centre for World Heritage of UNESCO including the assessment of environmental impact and impact on cultural heritage before making any decision to change them.
In the released documents for amendments to the General Urban Plan Ohrid (2014-2024) there was no letter of communication with the Center for World Heritage of UNESCO, nor an opinion regarding the proposed changes. We would like to once again remind of these obligations under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.