The protected area of the Axios Delta lies very close to a large city, Thessaloniki, and includes one of the most productive plains in the country. This fact creates a series of problems which cannot easily be resolved. The most important threats that the natural environment of the protected area faces are:
The pollution of surface and ground waters. The chemical and ecological state of the region’s surface and ground waters is particularly aggravated by the intense agricultural activity, the existence of numerous industrial or small-scale handicraft units (processing of agricultural products, sugar production, paper pulp, chemicals, agrochemicals, etc.), the increased extensional (free-range) or stabled stockbreeding and the intense urbanization. Additionally, the Axios river suffers from cross-border pollution. The Thermaic Gulf becomes the final recipient of these polluted river waters, as well as of the urban and industrial waste of Thessaloniki. Its present condition, though improved in relation to the past –following the start of the operation of the Sewage Treatment Installations– presents a variety of problems (such as increased sediment concentration of heavy metals like lead, zinc, chrome, etc. at the riverbed, cases of intense eutrophication due to the high concentration of nutritive salts, resulting in cases of outbreak of toxic phytoplankton, etc.).
The non sustainable management of water. The region’s surface and ground water is mainly used for agriculture, industry and water supply. Due to the increased needs for water during summer months, a decrease in the water level of rivers has been observed. Among other factors contributing to this decrease is the excessive pumping of water through unregulated abstractions. Due to the lack of the necessary watering infrastructure, farmers at the riparian area pump water directly from rivers in the absence of any regulations.
Unlicensed building and pressure from housing and industrial development. Due to its contiguity with the industrial area of Thessaloniki, pressure is being applied to develop commercial, craft workshops or industrial activities within the protected area. This pressure is applied contrary to the land-planning in the protected area and in violation of European directives and Hellenic legislation on the protection of the environment. Moreover, the landscape is being despoiled by numerous shacks and unlicensed small constructions on the coastal zone from Kalochori towards Chalastra, and also to a lesser degree at the estuary of the Loudias river. However, over the last years, existing buildings and rough constructions have been deserted, due to the broader financial conditions.
The uncontrolled dumping of solid residue (rubble, waste etc.) One of the biggest problems in the protected area is the uncontrolled dumping of rubble and waste into the environment. Riparian forests, wetlands, coastal areas, regions which once welcomed recreational activities have turned into dumps. Apart from the landscape’s aesthetic degradation, the threat of pollution arises for the surface and ground water, the air and soil, along with the despoiling of rare and sensitive habitats. According to the documentations of the Management Body, the closer an area is to the city of Thessaloniki, the more polluted it becomes.
The use of incorrect agricultural practices. The intensification of agriculture in this region, rice cultivation more specifically, has lead to the use of agricultural practices with negative impact on the environment. Also, a common phenomenon each year is the burning of the rice canes following the harvest, which creates a suffocating and dangerous environment for public health. The constant pursuit of production increase at any cost by some farmers leads many to the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as to illegal land reclamations.
Incorrect fishing-aquaculture practices. Mainly coastal fishing takes place in the sea region, while in rivers and estuaries, fishing is done with boats, nets, etc. by the few professional fishermen while amateurs use rods. The Body’s watchmen record cases of illegal fishing at the riverside parts within the protected area, either at the estuaries, or upstream, mainly at the dam of Eleousa at river Axios. These incidents occur during the fishes’ reproduction period (April-early June), when fishing in inland waters is forbidden. Moreover, reports have been made concerning cases of electrical fishing (illegal use of electricity) in rivers, which is the most destructive practice, as it can kill any living organism within a range of 2 meters!
The irrational exercise of mussel culture can affect the sea ecosystem’s carrying capacity – meaning, its ability to offer sufficient food, space, oxygen etc. to the populations living within it – either because the diet of bred species is based on the consumption of natural resources (plankton, oxygen, etc.) or because the poor placement and crowded units leads to the deceleration of water circulation, resulting in the reduction of the gulf’s self-cleaning capacity, in burdening the sediments of the bed through the dumping of organic material, etc. Moreover, the incorrect practices used (use of unsuitable buoys, dumping of old equipment like nets from bunches into the sea, etc.) lead to the degradation of the ecological condition of the sea habitats and by extension, to the drop in the quality of the product.
Intensive stockbreeding and overgrazing. Following the 1950’s, extensive former wetlands were given up to agriculture, thus shrinking the areas which were available for grazing. Today, the most precious regions, from a biodiversity point of view, which are home to the most beautiful landscapes and rarest of birds, are under extreme threat due to the grazing of livestock (mostly cows, sheep and a few goats), while riparian forests have been despoiled and degraded.
Illegal hunting. Illegal hunting -poaching- is a great plague for the Hellenic countryside and fauna. Shortcomings in protection and law enforcement, as well as the lack of information and awareness-raising of the hunting fraternity result in the wanton death and injury of hundreds of wild animals each year. This serious problem can only be resolved through the collaboration of the hunting world with the bodies dealing with the protection of the environment, on the basis of our common interest to preserve the wild nature of Greece.
Illegal sand extraction. Incidents of illegal sand extractions have been documented on the rivers Axios and Aliakmonas. The sites of these illegal sand extractions manifest a degradation of the riparian habitat and an alteration of the riverbed, thus threatening cultivable lands. In some cases, the vegetation was completely destroyed and all trees were felled.
Illegal logging. Illegal logging appeared in the protected area of the Axios Delta mostly at the beginning of the financial crisis and upon the increase of oil prices. This problem is mostly traced to the riparian forests of rivers Axios and Aliakmonas.
Moreover, one should mention the impact of climate change in the protected area; these are associated with a rise in temperatures, in the sea level and in extreme weather conditions, such as floods.