Although wetlands might not be the first natural wonders that spring to mind when you think of Crete and its spectacular beauty, they're one of the first things in nature to show signs of distress when the environment is under strain.
That's why Frank Wray, a University of Cincinnati biologist, grew alarmed when he returned for his second summer field project in Hersonissos, Crete, as a member of the UC Sustainable Development Group studying the problem of mass tourism in the region.
"Last year the mayor took us on a tour of the coastal area that included the wetland. The difference last year as opposed to this year is amazing," the UC Raymond Walters College faculty member says.
Although it's not clear why the wetland has changed so much in one year, Wray believes its current condition is critical and demands immediate intervention.
In addition to the marsh grasses and other flora typical of wetlands, this biotope or ecologically sensistive area, located on the northwest corner of the Municipality of Hersonissos, now contains piles of garbage and other solid waste such as plastic bags and bottles, tennis shoes, bottles and empty brake fluid containers.
"Oh my gosh, Liz, did you see this?" asks Wray on what might be his last visit this summer to the wetland. He is accompanied by Elizabeth Wolfe, UC master's student in geography (environmental studies) who has served as his assistant during the university's six-week research trip to Crete. Wray picks up a syringe from a pile of refuse. "It even has the needle on it."
A nearby illegal moto-cross training field creates noise that has scared away the migratory birds that once stopped here on their way to and from Africa and Europe each year, according to local residents. British birdwatchers who once frequented the area have stopped coming.
"The amount of algae floating on top shouldn't be
here," says Wray, pointing to the water's surface. "It will soak up all the available oxygen in
Contact: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
University of Cincinnati