The protected area of the Axios – Loudias – Aliakmon Delta is very important to the broader region, as it offers services and goods of vital importance. For instance, it supplies water for the network and irrigation, protects the inhabited and rural areas from flooding, regulates the climate, provides food products, as well as opportunities for research, education and recreation. These are the so-called ‘ecosystem services’, a term referring to the benefits that the natural environment offers to man, contributing to his wellbeing.
Ecosystem services in the Axios Delta
The wetland ecosystem of the four rivers and lagoons of the Axios Delta offers a series of valuable ecosystem services. Like all wetlands, it contributes to the cleaning of surface water and to the realimentation of the aquifer with fresh water. The existence of the halophytic zone in the coastal areas protects the fields from salinisation. Besides, the city of Thessaloniki is mainly supplied by water from the Aliakmon drainage basin.
The region of the Axios Delta also offers great opportunities to the now over one million residents of Thessaloniki to enjoy peace and nature. The rivers as well as the sea are attractive destinations for recreation. The region’s biological features render it extremely opportune for pupils’ environmental education.
Wetlands regulate the climate, rendering it milder, thus contributing to mitigating weather events. They produce large quantities of oxygen, while capturing large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus becoming a factor for protection against climate change.
National Park and financial activities
In the sector of goods and services, the existence of rivers renders the soil fertile; therefore, the plain of Thessaloniki is one of the most productive plains in Greece, with rice culture taking center stage. The region also produces cotton, corn and clover.
The river estuaries are important regions for the reproduction of fish which support the fishing sector in the Thermaic gulf. In the past, the Thermaic gulf used to be the richest bay in Greece in terms of fishing production. Today, despite a dramatic decrease in production due to pollution, it remains one of the richest fishing areas in Greece. Moreover, mussel culture is especially important in the area, as it is favored by the nutritious materials brought into the Thermaic gulf by rivers. The waterborne and picket-borne mussel culture installations of the Thermaic gulf produce 75 – 80% of all mussels in Greece, the majority of which is destined for export to European countries. Another important productive activity linked to the protected area is stockbreeding.
At Pieria, in the Alykes Kitrous lagoon, is the second largest salt production unit in Greece.
Vareltzidou, S., Tilders, I. and, Strixner, L. (2009), Recommended Strategic Plan for maintaining favourable conservation status of Natura 2000 areas in the Axios Delta (2009-2013). Axios Loudias Aliakmonas Estuaries Management Authority, Greece.