Kolkheti National Park is a national park located in the historical region of Colchis in western Georgia. It lies on a coastal plain on the Black Sea, between the mouths of the Tikori and Supsa and spanning the districts of Zugdidi, Khobi, Lanchkhuti, Senaki and Abasha. The park was established during 1998 and 1999 as part of Georgia’s Integrated Coastal Management Project, which was backed financially by the World Bank (WB) and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). Kolkheti National Park covers an area of 28,940 hectares, incorporating the land of the former 500-hectare Kolkheti State Nature Reserve, which had been established in 1947, and its surrounding wetlands, including the Paleastomi Lake
Kolkheti National Park was once part of the tropical and partly subtropical zone of the Tertiary period that stretched over the continent of Eurasia. Around 2000 BC, the first Georgian state, Kolkheti, better known as "Colchis," was created here and was the place in which the first Georgian coinage, “Kolkhuri Tetri,” was minted. Colchis features in Greek mythology as the rim of the world, and has been mentioned in historical chronicles across western Asia and eastern Europe since ancient times. Colchis appears in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts and his pursuit of the Golden Fleece. Colchis was also the land where the mythological Prometheus was punished by being chained to a mountain while an eagle ate at his liver for revealing the secret of fire to humanity. Amazons also were said to be of Scythian origin from Colchis. The main mythical characters from Colchis are Aeëtes, Eidyia, Pasiphaë, Circe, Medea, Chalciope and Absyrtus.
The advanced economy and favorable geographical and natural conditions of the area attracted the Milesian Greeks who colonized the Colchian coast, establishing trading posts in the area at Phasis, Gyenos, and Sukhumi in the 6th-5th centuries BC. These sites lay just outside the lands conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. After the demise of the Persian Empire, a significant part of Colchis became known locally as Egrisi and was annexed to the recently created Kingdom of Iberia (Kartli) in c. 302 BC. This region retained a degree of independence until conquered in c. 101 BC by Mithridates VI of Pontus.
The region became inhabited by a number of related but distinct tribes whose settlements lay chiefly along the shore of the Black Sea. Numbered amongst these were the Machelones, Heniochi, Zydretae, Apsilae, Lazi, Chalybes, Tabal, Tibareni, Mossynoeci, Macrones, Mushki and Marres.
During the rule of the Roman Empire, the Romans established major fortresses along the sea coast, but they found it increasingly difficult to maintain order. The lowlands and coastal area of what forms the marine area of the park today were frequently raided by the fierce mountainous tribes, with the Soani and Heniochi being the most powerful of them. In 69 AD, the people of Pontus and Colchis under Anicetus staged a major uprising against the Romans, who had grown increasingly weak during this time. By the 130s, the kingdoms of Machelones, Heniochi, Egrisi, Apsilia, Abasgia, and Sanigia had occupied the area from south to north. Goths, dwelling in the Crimea and looking for a new home, raided Colchis in 253, but they were repulsed with the help of the Roman garrison of Pitsunda. By the 3rd-4th centuries, most of the local kingdoms and principalities had been subjugated by the Lazic kings, and thereafter the country was generally referred to as Lazica (Egrisi).
Modern history and developments
In modern times, large-scale drainage undertaken by the Soviet authorities, especially in the 1920s to develop the economy, had a devastating impact on the wetland ecosystem and in 1947 led to a small 500-hectare reserve being established, called the Kolkheti State Nature Reserve. However, given that the surrounding wetlands contained much rich biogeographical and paleogeographical information of high importance to scientists and to Georgian national heritage, the area was granted RAMSAR status in 1996. This led to the Kolkheti National Park being formally established as a national park between 1998 and 1999, financially supported by the World Bank and the Global Environmental Facility.
However, shortly after the park was established, construction began in 1999 on the privately funded Kulevi Oil Terminal within the park with the aim of creating 16 tanks with a capacity of 22,000 cubic meters each, serviced by a railway that would transport up to 35 million tons of oil through the National Park. Once completed, the 100,000-ton to 150,000-ton tankers would transport the oil through the reserve out of the Black Sea. Dredging of an access channel through the marine reserve had begun, ignoring the environment agreements made by the Georgian government, the World Bank and conservationists. Local and international NGOs petitioned against the oil terminal and Green Alternative, a Georgian NGO, were particularly active in the protests but without initial success. In the end, the construction of the Kulevi Terminal was abandoned in late 2002, reportedly because of financial reasons, but the marine area of the Kolkheti National Park still clashes with land permitted to oil and gas companies for oil exploitation, conflicting with the official designated protected area