Vulnerability of a Northeast Mediterranean Island to Soil Loss. Can Grazing Management Mitigate Erosion?
Grazing management practices can be erosion abatement actions for lowering soil loss and the subsequent sediment pollution of surface water bodies. Process-based Geographic Information Systems models provide the opportunity to identify critical areas and hence better target such actions across the landscape. This study implemented the SWAT (Soil Water Assessment Tool) hydrologic and catchment management model to estimate the soil loss vulnerability of the nearly pristine but highly erodible Greek island of Samothraki in the North Aegean Sea, with a typical Mediterranean climate and steep topography. Model parameterization and evaluation were carried out by taking advantage of previous modeling experience on areas with data limitations. Inter-annual and intra-annual soil loss variability and the most critical areas (subbasins) of soil loss to waters were adequately identified and grazing management scenarios, including livestock reductions by 50% and 100%, grazing period reduction, and a combination of them, were formulated and applied to investigate the degree to which soil loss could be reduced. The annual reduction results varied between scenarios in the range of 10% to 25% for the entire island, and in wider ranges for its individual subbasins, showing a high potential for reducing the vulnerability of the most pressured ones. However, due to the high importance of the natural factors of rainfall and land slopes, the erosion vulnerability of the island overall could be significantly altered only if grazing management was integrated within a vegetation regeneration plan that included reforestation.