10 MAY 2018: Ancient Lake Ohrid, the UNESCO World Heritage Site believed to hold more species by surface area than any other inland water on Earth, and its vital adjacent wetland, Studenchishte Marsh, have now received the honor of a Declaration to safeguard and guide the wise use of their elite habitats from one of the world’s leading specialist organizations in the field, the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS).
Passed unanimously by 45 attending members of the SWS Europe Chapter at their 13th annual meeting hosted in the city of Ohrid, The Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem was announced on May 3 and greeted excitedly by supporters of nature conservation in the Ohrid-Prespa region and beyond.
If decision-makers and representatives of institutions remain true to the words spoken at a press conference earlier in the day, there is genuine hope that the Ohrid Declaration may mark the moment at which Studenchishte Marsh and Lake Ohrid transition to management processes that will sustain their once-in-a-world ecosystems both for their own sake and that of current and future generations of humankind.
- describes the “unique magnificence” of Lakes Ohrid and Prespa and the mountain through which they embrace each other for their species richness, clear waters, and relative wilderness;
- draws attention to the vital archives of climate, environmental and evolution knowledge harbored within the two lakes’ sediments;
- emphasizes the “critical importance” of Studenchishte Marsh, Lake Ohrid’s final shoreline wetland of significance for its biodiversity, habitat rarity, ecosystem services, and its potential as a core resource for sustainable tourism;
- identifies Studenchishte’s functions to improve water quality, mitigate floods, and store carbon as well as provide habitat for spawning fish;
- recognizes that UNESCO designation has neither been able to prevent polluting inflows to Lake Ohrid nor resulted in specific protection for wetland habitats.
- overviews how a mixture of urbanization, agricultural encroachment, incremental drainage, dumping of waste and road construction have significantly deteriorated Studenchishte;
- calls upon Macedonian authorities to “substantially enhance the status of protection of Lake Ohrid, including Studenchishte Marsh and its catchment” as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention;
- advises the creation of an action plan for protection and revitalization of Studenchishte that will replace the asphalt road that currently degrades it with a wooden walkway, prevent further waste disposal, reestablish direct water flows to Lake Ohrid, re-wet agricultural areas, and re-extend the marsh to its pre-deterioration boundaries;
- suggests restored and constructed wetlands to be included within a revised water management plan purposed towards reducing pollution and improving water quality in the Ohrid region;
- and recommends the establishment by the Municipality of Ohrid of multiple nature tourism products with Studenchishte Marsh as a core component.
The Declaration additionally clarifies that sufficient evidence has already been compiled through existing studies to justify both Lake Ohrid and Studenchishte Marsh as a Ramsar Site.
Indeed, just before its unveiling, a letter from the Ramsar secretariat had been read stating, “We appreciate the positive signs by the Macedonian authorities about the possible designation of Lake Ohrid and its adjacent wetlands for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.”
Nothing is holding back Lake Ohrid and Studenchishte Marsh now from accessing the sophisticated layers of protection and sensitive management that their incomparable natural values deserve.
The Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem has described exactly how to make it happen…