Prespa Park Wetlands

General description of the wetland

The Prespa Lakes and their basin include important freshwater and shoreline ecosystems, including riverine forests and shrub formations that gradually lead up to mountain oak, beech and beech-fir forests, as well as pseudo-Alpine meadows located above the forest limit.

Main wetland ecosystem services

The lakes perform important water storage, flood control and storm protection functions, and serve as a retention basin for sediments and nutrients that are utilized by wetland vegetation. Buffaloes graze on the littoral zone of Lake Micro Prespa as part of a vegetation management scheme, while a few more cattle may graze seasonally; very few cattle breeders will use wetland vegetation for fodder. However, wetland vegetation could potentially be used as a supplementary food source for domestic animals, but with concrete and controlled management objectives, for the benefit of biodiversity. Being part of a complex karst system, the lakes provide groundwater recharge, and make the local climate milder. The lakes and their aquifers provide drinking and irrigation water. The lakes are important for fishing and cattle grazing. The area is a well-known cultural tourism destination, while nature tourism is developing. The basin is recognized as an important area for environmental education and ecological, hydrological, and geological research.

Cultural values of the wetland area

Besides pre-historic caves and fortifications, as well as monuments and artwork from the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, and post-Byzantine periods, the region maintains a wealth of local traditions, many of which are connected with nature.

Biodiversity values of the wetland area

The relatively uninterrupted lakes ecosystem and surrounding area support exceptionally rich biodiversity, with a large number of endemic and threatened species, as well as natural habitats of European interest. The isolation of the basin for millions of years has resulted in high level of endemism: more than 45 invertebrate species and 9 fish species are endemic for Prespa Lakes and their basin. Large numbers of waterbirds use Prespa Lakes for breeding, feeding, wintering and as a stop-over site during migration. It is the most important breeding site for Dalmatian Pelican, with more than 1,100 pairs, about 18% of the world population of this vulnerable species included in the IUCN Red List. Periodically flooded meadows, rocky and gravel shores, riverbanks and permanent springs provide important spawning grounds for fish.

Pressure factors and transboundary impacts

A substantial decrease in Lake Macro Prespa’s water level had been observed since the late 1980s, while, since 2009, the water level of the lake has been increasing. It is assumed that the dry period after 1987, in combination with the underground outflow to Lake Ohrid and increased water abstraction, resulted in the decrease of the water level. This affected natural ecosystems and made shoreline areas less attractive for tourists. Combined with increased nutrients input, this has led to increased eutrophication. The construction of irrigation systems resulted in drainage of a number of wet areas in the 1960s, mainly near Micro Prespa, and in extensive sedimentation of the lake from the 1970s onwards due to the Devolli River diversion in the Albanian part of Micro Prespa. At present, abstraction of water throughout the basin puts a pressure on natural ecosystems. Illegal sand and gravel extraction also can affect the hydrological regime of the wetland. Tourism and recreation need to be developed in a sustainable way, minimizing direct disturbances of the natural ecosystems and pressures through water abstraction and wastewater discharges,
among others. Other disturbing activities are nonsustainable (including illegal) hunting and fishing, and introduction of alien fish species (e.g. Prussian Carp, Grass Carp, Eastern Mosquitofish, Silver Carp, Tench, White Amur Bream, Stone Moroko, Pumpkinseed Sunfish, Rainbow Trout, European Bitterling, Wels Catfish and Ohrid Trout) that affect native fish and invertebrate populations. The abandoning of cattle grazing on littoral meadows has led to the loss of these important habitats, and expansion of the reed beds in Micro Prespa. Attempts to partially solve the problem by reed burning led to an additional disturbance of wetland ecosystems and carbon release into the atmosphere, but during the last decade an effective restoration and management programme by grazing and summer cutting of the reed bed vegetation, coupled with management of the water level, has been implemented by the Society for the Protection of Prespa.

Transboundary wetland management

In 2000, the Prime Ministers of Albania, Greece, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared the creation of the Prespa Park, under the auspices of the Ramsar Convention, upon a proposal by the Society for the Protection of Prespa, WWF Greece and the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet). This decision was followed by the establishment of the trilateral Prespa Park Coordination Committee. Since
2006, transboundary cooperation is enhanced through the project “Integrated ecosystem management in the Prespa Lakes Basin in Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece”, financially supported by the GEF. A number of parallel projects are supported by UNDP, German Development Bank (KfW), Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, NGOs and the three national Governments. In 2010, the Environment Ministers of the three countries and the EU Environment Commissioner signed an Agreement on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Prespa Park Area that sets out detailed principles and mechanisms of transboundary cooperation. The priority issue for transboundary cooperation is water resources management at basin level, in accordance with the WFD and with the aim of maintaining water- dependent ecosystem values, and satisfying needs for drinking and irrigation water. A transboundary monitoring system in the Prespa Basin is under development; sustainable fishery and tourism, biodiversity and hydrogeology studies, the management of protected areas, education and public awareness on the Prespa Lakes wetlands are also addressed at transboundary and national level. In all three countries, lake, shoreline and forest areas have the status of nationally-protected areas. In Albania, Prespa National Park (27,750 ha) covers the whole Albanian catchment. Two park information centers are located in the villages of Gorice Vogel and Zagradec. In Greece, the Prespa National Park (32,700 ha) was designated in July 2009 including Ramsar Site Lake Micro Prespa (5,078 ha) and Natura 2000 sites. Three information centers operate in the area. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Lake Prespa is designated as natural monument and Ramsar Site (18,920 ha), which includes Strict Nature Reserve Ezerani (2,080 ha). Additionally, large parts of Galicica National Park and Pelister National Park are found within the Prespa Basin.