Known as the Aquatic Galapagos, Museum of Living Fossils, and Theater of Evolution, UNESCO Lake Ohrid attracts many beautiful and mysterious names, so what makes people describe the lake with that much emotion? Here’s a short explanation:
Everybody knows the story of Charles Darwin, evolution and the Galapagos Islands. Most are also familiar with iconic Galapagos animals that exist nowhere else in the world, such as the giant tortoise and marine iguana. These exist on Galapagos because the islands have been isolated from contact with other land for such a long period of time, so plants and animals have evolved specifically to their habitats.
Exactly the same process of isolation over time is occurring at Lake Ohrid, and it too has evolved unique species, some of which are probably still to be discovered. Like many of the Galapagos’s natural treasures, these cannot be found anywhere else except in Lake Ohrid, so they’re extremely rare and precious.
Just as the Galapagos is a family of islands, each with subtle differences in flora and fauna, Ohrid is in a very special family of ancient lakes around the world such as Lake Baikal, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Biwa. These have created their own magnificent, special, and inimitable underwater worlds too.
And while there might not be any Galapagos penguins on Macedonian or Albanian beaches, comparing the rate of world-unique water species between Lake Ohrid and Galapagos yields a surprising result: about 20% of marine life is endemic to the Galapagos Islands; 36% of Ohrid’s aquatic life cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Theater of Evolution
Because Lake Ohrid is constantly innovating new species, researching its waters is like watching the story of life on Earth unfold, a theater play in which the characters are real living beings with complex experiences and inter-relationships.
As with all the best plays, the story-lines have many secrets and surprises, and you have to keep watching because you can never be sure what exciting scene you may see next. The meaning goes deep beyond the surface too with potential implications for evolution studies, climate studies, design and even medicine.
Museum of Living Fossils
Lake Ohrid has survived for a long time. A really long time. So long, in fact, most other lakes that existed when Lake Ohrid was formed have completely disappeared, meaning that the species living within them have gone forever too.
But Ohrid’s story is different. Its deep waters and stable conditions over thousands and thousands of years have helped to shelter and nurture plants and animals of the deep past. Those that died elsewhere are still alive here, luxuriating in the smooth transparent waters.
So, those masterpieces of nature that can only be seen as exhibits in museums elsewhere are living, breathing, active participants in the day-to-day routine of the Lake Ohrid ecosystem.
In some ways, this has a mirror in the fascinating human culture in the lakeshore towns too.
Cover Pic: Kliment A. Vid: Ljupco Lepi Inline Pic: S. Dimoska