Studying the marine environment and the importance of public participation
Only through understanding the environment can its sustainable future be designed. Equally, it is essential to share understanding with the communities that live in any given area because, when a community interacts with the environment it is difficult not to have a negative impact if information and awareness are lacking.
Such is the case in Albania where there are 540 kilometres of coastline and a varied coastal environment, characterised by a unique wetland landscape, lagoons, natural harbours, bays, dunes, cliffs, caves, and slopes. Although these areas are of outstanding natural and biological importance, many are under threat. Rivers transport waste from the Albanian hinterland down to the Mediterranean coast. In addition to this, illegal construction is taking place all along the coast, with the sensitive issue of cultural and archaeological heritage sites potentially being degraded.
Albania has recently embarked on a path towards future Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). The Minister of Tourism and Environment, Blendi Klosi, declared that it was time to develop a marine spatial plan in order to define responsibilities and set limits for exploiting the seas in cooperation with the Ministry of Transport. He considered that this would require a coordinated and cross-border approach between industry, fishing, citizens, and governments to ensure the most appropriate use of the sea. Through the GEF Adriatic project, Albania is creating an enabling environment for this approach. A series of sea-related events, held during August to November 2020 in Albania, were organised with the support of the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment and the National Agency for Protected Areas. These events aimed to educate and involve young people and adults with regard to the importance of acting now in order to preserve and better manage Adriatic marine resources. During the events, participants and organisations discussed the complexities of their own diverse relationships with the marine environment.
Velipoje. Today's sea for tomorrow's citizens
An event on 26th August 2020 for teenagers (12 to 16) took place near the Buna-Velipoja River, in the Prefecture of Shkodra. It was titled “Water, the moving force of nature”. This Leonardo Da Vinci quote was chosen because, after all, young people are the moving force behind change towards a sustainable approach to marine environments. This event aimed, through a series of workshops, to mobilize young people and increase the knowledge they need to be able to support natural marine resources in future. The younger generation are the scientists, fishermen, tourist operators, and decision-makers of tomorrow.
Over a whole day, the participants were able to explore the coastal area, engage in outdoor sports activities, and, most importantly, become more aware of the impact of human activities and pollution on the ecosystem.
«Knowing that sea pollution has recently played a negative role, we should teach the younger generation that sea pollution starts from the land. We need to start from the land, keep it clean and educate people how to keep our environment as clean as possible», stated Agim Dardha, Regional Administration of Protected Areas in Shkoder.
Young people today are more aware of environmental issues than any other generation before them. «To clean, as much as possible, the environment, the place where we live, and the water can only be an advantage for us: there is no disadvantage in living a good and healthy life». «There should be more associations and institutions to deal with the protection of the environment and marine waters» explained Uendi Zylaj and Roel Smajlaj, two children participating in one of the workshops.
Maritime routes, tourism, and the environment
The exponential increase in tourist routes has led to new critical issues, frequently concerning the impact of tourism on the coastal environment. The workshop organized by the National Agency of Protected Areas in Albania on 12 September 2020 in Vlora examined new perspectives on the impact of human activity on the seas, paying particular attention to tourism. Zamir Dedej, Director of the National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA), stated that to develop a marine spatial plan, it was necessary to clearly define shipping routes, marinas, the buoys where tourists can anchor their boats, and protected areas where fishing is forbidden. This is a precondition for MSP. Mr Dedej stressed the urgent need to establish a scientific research institute for the Albanian sea that can form the scientific backbone to any marine management decision, and added that at the moment Albania “unlike other countries, does not have a marine scientific research institution to deal with biology, chemistry, hydrology, and other elements related to its fauna and flora. We should clearly define where we should intervene and where we should not intervene”.
The workshop in Vlora was also attended by Igli Pushtina, President of the Albanian Diving Federation and Kastriot Zilja, President of the Sailing Association. They both highlighted the importance of cooperation between maritime surveillance institutions, maritime businesses, experts, and the community, essential for gathering the key data needed for maritime spatial planning. Cooperation can (and should) also go beyond the Albanian borders, as suggested by the Deputy Director of the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development, Salvatore Ficarre. He shared his idea of developing the sites of the 19 ships which sank during the First and Second World Wars, found in Vlora Bay, into possible visitor attractions as a way to encourage off-season tourism.
Two days in one for sustainable development
On the occasion of the Mediterranean Coast Day (25 September) and World Tourism Day (27 September) the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and the National Agency of Protected Areas of Albania, within the framework of the GEF Adriatic project, organized an educational workshop in Durrës, on 26 September 2020 - with the motto “Feel natural, think blue”.
Finding ways to develop a Blue Economy, without damaging the sea, and by improving maritime legislation, was the focus of this workshop. Pirro Vengu, director of the Durrës Port Authority was discussing the opportunities for the port operators sector to provide better and environmentally friendly services for domestic and foreign tourist vessels, enabling their longer stay and better outcomes for local economies.
The need for stricter laws to preserve the environment was also discussed at the event. In addition, some research and planning opportunities were presented with a view to indicating the direction of marine spatial planning from 2020 to 2030. Genc Myftiu, SPA/RAC consultant, presented some of the most important ones in Patok Rodoni and Vlora bays. «The marine survey of the Patok-Rodoni area will shed light on the environmental values and challenges being the basis for the maritime planning of the area. The first marine planning guidelines for Vlora’s maritime space were prepared, opening the doors for future full MSP implementation in that important bay», said Genc Myftiu.
How to carry out a marine survey
Marine scientists, professionals from government, non-government institutions, and students held a workshop on 23 October 2020 in Shëngjin. It was organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment with the theme: “Monitoring of physical and chemical parameters of the Adriatic Sea Protection Area, new concept, new approvals.” During the workshop, participants were invited onto a boat where they could take part in a demonstration of marine monitoring. The second part of the workshop focused on examining monitoring data on the Mati river mouth and the Adriatic Sea, and the role of Marine Protected Areas in coastal and water management.
The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for different professionals to exchange views and share their knowledge, united by the need to increase common understanding of how best to monitor the quality of the seas. «A comprehensive approach to sea monitoring should connect academic practices to science, decision-makers, and the local community. Integration is key to continuing protection of the Adriatic Sea. We need to start to share information and inform people. I think this is the most important part and we have to do it now. This project is important because it is the start of new knowledge about the sea and in particular about the sea of Albania. This is a message for everybody: we live thanks to the sea, so we have to get to know the sea better, because our life is completely connected to the sea», stated marine biologist and expert Monica Previati.
Marine environment, biodiversity and protected species
An awareness-raising event on the need for safeguarding the marine species, in particular marine turtles, took place on 6 November 2020 in Divjaka National Park. Organised by the National Agency for Protected Areas and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the workshop was designed and delivered in cooperation with Tirana University, the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and its students. Participants found the event inspiring and a great way to learn about the enormous potential there was to develop ecotourism and, as future consumers, to reduce waste, avoid polluting water, and protect marine life.
Participants also learned about the identification and rescue of endangered marine species, such as marine turtles. It was shown that the Divjaka Karavasta wetland offers ideal conditions for a large number of species to nest. The great diversity of habitats and aquatic environments found there provides good food and reproduction conditions, making it one of the key areas in Albania. Professor Enerit Sacdanaku said that after undertaking a study “the main results from evaluating our beaches was that a considerable percentage of these are of high and medium suitability for sea turtle nesting. One of them is the beach in Divjakë, where the first officially recorded nest of loggerhead sea turtles, called Caretta-Caretta, was reported in 2018”.
Overall these awareness raising events will encourage young people to take action.