Lake Ohrid is a 138 square mile lake straddling the border between Albania, and Macedonia. This lake is the oldest in Europe, and is extremely well-known for its clear water (on a good day, you can see up to 66ft down), and the biodiversity, of which 200 unique species are found in the lake. Not only is the lake a UNESCO World Heritage site, for Nature, the towns on the lake are Cultural World Heritage sites. Year round, the mild climate ranges from 45-81 degrees.
On the shores lie numerous villages and three major towns. Ohrid, and Struga in Macedonia, and via ferry on the Albanian side, Pogradec. Pogradec has a large castle and Illyrian tombs within the vicinity. Struga also has a few monasteries, and is known as being a quiet town. But the real attraction is the city of Ohrid.
Ohrid is the cultural heritage site, known as “Balkan Jerusalem.” At one time, local legends state the city had 365 chapels, one for each day of the year. Within the city’s hills, there are tombs and Roman era churches and ruins. Among the main sights are Samuil’s Fortress:
The Church of Saint John at Kaneo:
The Monastery of Saint Naum:
To Bronze Age Replicas of Lake Houses:
The lake itself is so isolated, that invasive species aren’t a problem. There are well over 200 native species that reside in the lake, spanning the entire food chain, from native plankton, to algae, eels and trout, and 68 types of freshwater snails. This food source provides a steady supply to the hundreds of thousands of birds that reside around the lake. These include, the Dalmatian Pelican, the Ferruginous “Fudge” Duck, Swans, the Spotted Eagle, and the Eastern Imperial Eagle. When combined with the native plants, the lake and the catchment are are home to over 1300 different species.
Like any beautiful place, there comes economic development. Among the dangers:
- Overfishing, the stocks of the native trout have been severely depleted.
- The construction of tourist hotels have destroyed spawning grounds for fish, and waterfowl habitats.
- The increasing pollution from hotels has also caused phosphorus to leak into the lake.
But that isn’t the worst part, the mayor of Ohrid would like to drain an entire 75 acre marsh, and replace it with luxury housing, complete with a marina, and fill in the area with imported Mediterreanean-style sand. The same marsh that they plan to destroy, also filters sewage and other forms of water pollution from entering the lake. But wait, there’s more:
- A 26km A3 expressway, which the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has salami-sliced and is considering finance for 12.5km, will grind through ecologically sensitive mountainside lands including 84 hectares of Macedonian oak forest, an Annex 1 habitat under the EU Habitats Directive.
- National park lands will be downgraded from a Zone of Active Management to a Zone of Sustainable Use to allow a ski resort to cut through the heart of once-protected Mount Galicica, despite its paucity of natural snow.
- Studenchishte Marsh, the last of Lake Ohrid’s wetlands and the natural filter for its notable water quality, will be cemented in favor of upscale tourism accommodation.
- Associated with the ski-resort, 319 hectares of Annex 1 Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands; 106 hectares of Annex 1 common juniper scrub; 87 hectares of Annex 1 beech woods; and over 40 hectares of other listed plant communities will be devastated.
- Lakeshore tourism developments at the village of Ljubanishta will cripple a vital underwater spring system and concrete areas physically within the lake.
- Natural, pebbled beach habitats will be sunk beneath imported sand to match Mediterranean seaside stereotypes.