In the late 1980s, while exploring the secret beauties of Greece, the future founders of WWF Greece stumbled upon an incredible natural treasure. In a small area, the nature of Prespa lake concentrates more than 50% of Greece’s biodiversity, enchanting anyone who lays eyes on it!
The two lakes, the Lesser Prespa and the Great Prespa and the mountains surrounding them create a natural paradise that you rarely encounter elsewhere. It is not just the impressive landscape that makes this place stand out. More than half of the species of birds, amphibians, and mammals encountered throughout Greece can be found in the Prespa area, while of the 23 species of fish that are found here, nine are endemic, which means that this is the only place you can find them in the whole world. In total, 261 species of birds, 61 species of mammals, 22 species of reptiles, 11 species of amphibians, 23 species of freshwater fish and more than 1,500 species of plants, all gathered in an area of just 327 square kilometres, giving life to the region and imbuing it with enormous ecological value.
It is also characteristic that the Prespa region is the world capital of one of the most emblematic wetland birds: the Dalmatian pelican. The largest colony of Dalmatian pelicans is found in the Lesser Prespa, and it consists of approximately 1,5200 pairs.
How easy is it to protect such a wonder of nature, especially when is shared with other countries?
Prespa lakes, an ark of life
261 bird species
61 mammal species
23 freshwater fish species
22 reptile species
11 amphibian species
More than 1,500 plant species
Prespa Lakes National Park – 327 square kilometres
Although isolated, on the borders, and with limited access at the time, since the 1960s the Prespa lakes had attracted the interest of ecologists, nature lovers, and specialised scientists, due to the wealth of its natural environment and its beauty. It took decades of persistent efforts, but today the Prespa lakes are a model of local development and joint management, international cooperation, and protection of the environment.
The first coordinated effort to protect the region took place in 1990, with the establishment of the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP). The contribution of Dr Luc Hoffmann and Thymios Papagiannis, founders of WWF Greece, as well as of the biologist Giorgos Katsadorakis, was decisive. SPP was founded in 1991 with the participation of 10 environmental organisations, which still join their voices for the protection of Prespa.
The Lesser and Great Prespa lakes are administratively shared by three countries: Albania, North Macedonia, and Greece. However, the water and the species that live in it, the most characteristic examples being the unique bird fauna and the wealth of freshwater fish, know no borders. Many years of experience and recognition of the fact that effective protection of Prespa depends directly on cooperation and coordinated actions of all three states that share the lakes led to the joint proposal of WWF Greece and the Society for the Protection of Prespa, in 2001, for the establishment of the first transboundary protected area in the Balkans.
Transboundary Prespa Park
The Prespa Park was established in February 2000 with a joint declaration by the Prime Ministers of all three states. Ten years later (February 2010) thethree states and the European Union signed an international agreement, aiming to strengthen the institutional operation of the Transboundary Prespa Park. WWF Greece has played an active role throughout this journey by systematically participating in the Prespa Park Coordination Committee.
Presently, WWF Greece continues to participate in the General Assemby of the SPP, which implements a broad range of actions for the protection and management of the wetland, the protection of the endangered species of the region and the habitats it hosts, as well as for the promotion of sustainable development. By highlighting traditional activities and implementing actions in the sectors of livestock farming and agriculture, it encourages the production of products and services that utilise and guard the natural advantages of Prespa in order to maximise the benefits for both the primary sector and the region. Such an action, implemented in partnership with WWF Greece from 2005 to 2009, was the preparation of a labelling system for ‘Prespa Park Protected Area Products’, so that the famous Prespa beans, the main source of income for locals, could gain added value and traceability, with an emphasis on the environmental management of agricultural practices.
A few years later, guided by Luc Hoffmann's vision for Prespa, the MAVA Foundation assigned to WWF Greece a feasibility study for the creation of a mechanism to financially support the sustainable management of the Prespes lakes and the surrounding region. WWF Greece proposed the creation of the Prespa Ohrid Nature Trust (ΡΟΝΤ), which was founded in late 2015 as an independent organisation whose mission is to provide long-term financial support for the conservation and sustainable management of biological diversity, natural processes, and ecosystem services in Prespa and the broader region, for the benefit of its nature and residents. WWF Greece coordinated the procedures and to support the mission of PONT, which is the first transboundary trust fund in the Balkans and one of the very few transboundary trust funds in the world.
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