Magic Number 63.97

Try rocketing to the moon on a 2km/h spaceship; boiling water at 50 degrees; winning Olympic gold with a 30 cm jump; or replacing all your clothes with new ones just a quarter of your current size.

If you ever do, prepare for a) disappointment; b) the wrong kind of fame; c) potential arrest; d) definite embarrassment; e) general ridicule; and f) extremely weak tea. Why are these terrible things happening to you? Because the relationship between numbers and results is important. You cannot simply change the former to whatever you want and expect the latter to be equally desirable.

The same goes for protecting Lake Ohrid’s crucial Studenchishte Marsh wetland. 63.97 hectares is the magic number suggested as a Monument of Nature by an expert team in 2013. That contains provisions for three zones–Strict Protection, Active Management and Sustainable Use–which would set rules for what kinds of activities could be allowed in which parts of the wetland.

A vastly smaller area–like vastly smaller clothes–simply leads to pain and 63.97 hectares is already a severe compromise. Studenchishte Marsh has undergone almost constant degradation over recent years and lost a large portion of its previous extent, while other large wetlands in the Ohrid region (like Struga Marsh) are close to completely drained.

Associated consequences are becoming more and more obvious. The importance of Lake Ohrid as a site for nesting birds is diminishing; several rare and relict plants are either locally extinct or in danger of going that way; fish species–including endemic trout–have lost wintering and spawning grounds. What is more, there are growing concerns about eutrophication and the quality of the lake water.

One of the best solutions–as explicitly suggested by both the IUCN, the world’s largest conservation network, and the Society of Wetland Scientists, a global expert organization, would be wetland rehabilitation, which implies no further incursions on their final 63.97-hectare frontier at Studenchishte and perhaps even revitilization in other locations.

Unfortunately, decision-makers in key roles have repeatedly suggested protection of just a 15-hectare area, opening the rest of Studenchishte wetland to drainage and concrete. That’s the sustainable development equivalent of a 2km/h rocket to the moon with a pilot whose space-suit is way too small…

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