Studenchishte Marsh is the last remains of a previously extensive wetland habitat on the eastern shore of ancient Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia. It is also the final major coastline wetland at Lake Ohrid and one of only seven marshes with relict communities that still exist in North Macedonia. With several millennia of natural history, it is a site of key conservation interest.
Flora and Fauna
Furnishing habitat for a wide variety of species, Studenchishte Marsh harbors flora and fauna that differ substantially to those of Lake Ohrid, which is one of the most biodiverse inland waters on Earth. Consequently, the marsh contributes significantly to the biological, ecosystemic and habitat diversity of the Ohrid region, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in part due to the Outstanding Universal Value of its nature.
Historically, Studenchishte Marsh was one of Lake Ohrid's most important nesting sites for birds and spawning locations for cyprinid fish, although much of this significance has been lost in recent years due to a range of anthropogenic pressures. Nonetheless, while far fewer birds nest at Studenchishte than in previous times, its avifauna still boasts upwards of 50 species, and Studenchishte Canal, which marks the northern border of the wetland area, remains inhabited by 17 kinds of fish, including several that are endemic to the Ohrid region.
Among the minimum nine varieties of amphibian to be found in the area, the Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus) and Yellow-Bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) are noteworthy. Reptile and mammal fauna is insubstantially researched, although the European pond turtle and three species of snake are confirmed in the former category, and otter, fox, beech marten and European polecat in the latter. Studenchishte is likely home to several rodent and bat species, yet precise data is lacking.
Among invertebrates, Studenchishte Marsh and its surrounding coastal waters display 16% of the Gastropoda, 20% of the Tricladida, 35% of the Oligochaeta and 22.5% of the Chironomidae found at Lake Ohrid, while the 9 planarian taxa of the wetland include several that are endemic to Lake Ohrid's coastal springs. Beetles, one of the few insects to have been studied in detail, appear in 39 different varieties, some of which have not been recorded anywhere else in North Macedonia, and biological diversity is further boosted by 34 kinds of dragon and damselflies, 19% of which are specific to Southern Europe.
In terms of plants, Studenchishte supports a wide variety of habitats including alkaline marshes and fens, and semi-natural wet meadows. The alkaline fens have higher nutrient levels, which encourages greater plant and animal diversity. The result is a flora that displays 50% of the total diversity of plant associations recorded for marshes in North Macedonia. In addition, ten rare and relict species have been recorded in the location, indicating that it has refugial qualities for wetland flora. Half of these are now believed to have been extirpated from the location, but others such as Carex elata may offer a source from which to rehabilitate other degraded wetlands in North Macedonia.
Studenchishte Marsh instigates benefits to the local region beyond habitat provision for biodiversity. Its 5-meter deep peatlands, which have accumulated over 5,000 years, provide carbon storage and its function as a natural filter prevents nutrients from entering Lake Ohrid and thereby buffers against eutrophication. This is significant due to the research opportunities presented by Lake Ohrid's unique ecosystem, which depends on its highly specific water conditions. In previous years, as a location for spawning fish, Studenchishte Marsh was additionally a contributor to Lake Ohrid fisheries, although this function has been severely depleted.
Much of Studenchishte Marsh's previous surface area has been converted into farmland, roads or buildings. It has been further degraded by large-scale construction of tourism facilities. Several of the channels that once connected it with Lake Ohrid have been disrupted. The urbanization of beaches has caused the depletion of reed belts. Additionally, high volumes of construction waste have been deposited in the wetland, covering six hectares. As a result, its ability to shelter and raise fish populations has been almost totally lost alongside much of its importance for birds.
Modification of the General Urban Plan for the City of Ohrid 2014-2024 envisaged draining the area almost completely and replacing it with tourism accommodation, recreation facilities, a marina and a sports center. These intentions sparked international attention and the 2015 establishment of a citizen initiative, Ohrid SOS, which was created in opposition to the plans. Global scientific organizations such as the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) and International Society of Limnology (SIL) also spoke out on the issue.
In 2017, proposals to drain and develop Studenchishte were reversed although local government plans for a marina continue to lack clarification.
Designation for Studenchishte Marsh as a protected natural area has been suggested for decades, although it has never been completed at a national level. The most recent expert study on the wetland proposes a 63.97-hectare area to receive Monument of Nature status.
An Ohrid SOS proposal endorsed by the Society of Wetlands Scientists for Studenchishte Marsh and Lake Ohrid to apply for proclamation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention was submitted to the Macedonian government in 2017.
At its 60th session on March 20, 2018, the government took the decision to proceed with nomination of Studenchishte as both a Monument of Nature and Ramsar Site (alongside Lake Ohrid). This process is currently ongoing.
Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem
The Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem, passed unanimously by 45 attending members of the Society of Wetland Scientists Europe Chapter at its 13th annual meeting from 30 April to 4 May 2018, makes specific reference to the critical importance of Studenchishte Marsh for its species composition and rarity, undisturbed peat layers, and ecosystem services. It calls for an urgent action plan to protect and revitalize the wetland with the long-term aim of rewetting agricultural areas.
- Apostolova, N., Scarry, D., and Verhoeven, Jos T. A. (2016). "Studenchishte Marsh as an Integral Part of Ancient Lake Ohrid: Current Status and Need for Protection". Wetland Science & Practice. 33 (2).CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of the Republic of Macedonia (2014) Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Skopje, North Macedonia.
- Spirovska, M., et al. (2012) Integrated Study on the State of the Remains of Studenchishte Marsh and Measures for its Revitalization. Dekons-Ema. Drustvo za ekoloshki consulting.
- Albrecht, Christian; Wilke, Thomas (2008-12-01). "Ancient Lake Ohrid: biodiversity and evolution". Hydrobiologia. 615 (1): 103. doi:10.1007/s10750-008-9558-y. ISSN 0018-8158.
- UNESCO World Heritage Committee. "Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region". UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
- Dr. Thomas Wilke and Dr. Christian Albrecht (31 August 2015). "Lake Ohrid: A Paradise in Peril". Fokus.
- Pearce, Fred (18 December 2015). "Europe's oldest lake faces destruction to make way for tourists". New Scientist. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- O'Brien, Rachel (29 January 2015). "Macedonians send out SOS from Europe's oldest lake". phys.org. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- "Ohrid SOS: Guardians of the Aquatic Galapagos". Ohrid SOS. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- Letter from Society of Wetland Scientists to Mayor of Ohrid City (7 October 2015) Available 20/4/2018 at http://sws.org/images/News/LakeOhrid2015.pdf
- Letter from Society of Wetland Scientists to National Ramsar Committee of the Republic of Macedonia, Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of the Republic of Macedonia, and Government of the Republic of Macedonia (Available 20/4/2018 at http://sws.org/images/sws_documents/SWS-Ramsar-letter-Ohrid.pdf)
- Government of the Republic of Macedonia (2018) Записник од Шеесеттата седница на Владата на Република Македонија, одржана на 20.3.2018 година (Minutes from the 60th Session of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia held on 20.3.2018) Available 20/4/2018 via http://vlada.mk/vladini-sednici
- Society of Wetland Scientists (2018) The Declaration for the Protection of the Lake Ohrid Ecosystem (Available via http://www.sws.org/images/chapters/europe/Declaration.pdf.)