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The wetland between the settlement of Gialova and the bay of Voidokilia, which has been declared as an archaeological site, spreads over 6,000 acres of land and is known as Divari (from the Latin vivarium, which means “fish hatchery”); it’s depth does not exceed 4 m. This lagoon is the southernmost stop of the migratory birds of the Balkans travelling to and from Africa. The wetland offers refuge to 254 bird species, such as herons, cormorants, kestrels, Aegean seagulls, flamingos, ospreys, imperial eagles and other aquatic birds. The area also hosts the very rare, almost-extinct in Europe species of the African chameleon. Apart from the ferrets, foxes and weasels that hunt its eggs, this serpent is mainly endangered from the overwhelming human presence, especially during the summer months, with the large tourist crowds. The Ornithological Society’s observation station gives the visitors the opportunity to learn and to observe this shallow, brackish-water lake, which has been included in the Natura 2000 network, and to roam around the paths that describe Gialova’s different ecosystems.

The wetland between the settlement of Gialova and the bay of Voidokilia, which has been declared as an archaeological site, spreads over 6,000 acres of land and is known as Divari (from the Latin vivarium, which means “fish hatchery”); it’s depth does not exceed 4 m. The wetland can be divided into brackish-water lagoons and fresh-water marshes. Behind them there is an in-between zone of arable land and maquis. The main human occupations are fishing, cattle breeding, agriculture, tourism and hunting.

This lagoon is the southernmost stop of the migratory birds of the Balkans travelling to and from Africa. In the autumn the birds stop here, at the southernmost European wetland, before they fly over the Mediterranean and the Sahara, a journey of 3,000 km. In the spring they follow the reverse route, abandoning their winter homes in Central Africa and migrating to Europe in order to breed.

The larger birds, such as the herons, kestrels and Eurasian curlews, arrive at the lagoon in waves during the day and stay only for a few hours, in order to rest. Before dusk, they all fly away together. The smaller birds, such as the charadriiformes, usually arrive at night, stay in the wetland for many hours in order to feed, and most often fly away in the early evening.

The birds, migratory and non, include: herons (Ardea purpurea and Ardeola ralloides), Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), bitterns (Ixobrychis minutus), storks (C. ciconis), ducks (T. tadorna), flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), Marsh sandpipers (Tringa stagnatilis), wood sandpipers (Tringa glareola), Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola), gulls (Larus melanocephalus), terns (Gelochelidon nilotica, Sterna albifrons), Gull-Billed Terns (Sterna nilotica), cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), egrets (Egretta garzetta), Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus), Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Of the 254 species that have been recorded in recent years, 79 have been recognized as endangered in Europe and 4 as endangered worldwide.

The main threats are fishing, the increased saltiness in the fresh-water marshes –as a result of drawing water for agricultural use, both from the surface and from underground– and also hunting and the filling of the wetland with debris. The low agricultural intensification, coupled with intensive fishing, the drawing of underground water and the ever-increasing development in tourist facilities are the biggest threats to the wetland. The area has been nominated as a Special Conservation Area.

The wetland offers refuge to 254 bird species, such as herons, kestrels, Aegean seagulls, flamingos, ospreys, imperial eagles and other aquatic birds. The area also hosts the very rare, almost-extinct in Europe species of the African chameleon. Apart from the ferrets, foxes and weasels that hunt its eggs, this serpent is mainly endangered from the overwhelming human presence, especially during the summer months, with the large tourist crowds. The passage of vehicles destroys both the vegetation (bushy-ammophilous), which is the species’ main abode, and the nests, which are formed in the sand along the coast. In recent years, a decrease in the animal’s size, a delay in its breeding and egg-laying and a relocation of its nests towards more remote areas has been observed.

Gialova (it means “flat coast”) is surrounded by olive and citrus trees, as well as gardens and vines that flourish in damp soil. It is a touristically developed area which satisfies the requirements for modern vacations, with its sandy beach pulsating with life, especially during the summer months, something that at the same time becomes the most immediate danger for the survival of the wetland.

Not very far, the waves of the Ionian sea created a unique part of the ecosystem, the impressive for its shape, colours, sandy beach and emerald green waters bay of Voidokoilia, one-of-its-kind in the whole of the Mediterranean. The cedars and the sand dunes protect the ground and the sand is preserved, despite the strong winds blowing in the bay. From above it resembles a sea mushroom, with a dark blue jellyfish peeking through its waters.

The Ornithological Society’s observation station gives the visitors the opportunity to learn and to observe this shallow, brackish-water lake, which has been included in the Natura 2000 network, and to roam around the paths that describe Gialova’s different ecosystems.

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