Magazine article Geographical

The Uncertain Future of Lake Skadar: A Key Biodiversity Area, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and Home to over 270 Species of Bird. but Also a Prime Target for Developers Looking to Build a Tourist Trade. Rudolf Abraham Investigates Whether the Fight to Keep a Montenegrin Beauty Spot Pristine Can Really Be Won

Magazine article Geographical

The Uncertain Future of Lake Skadar: A Key Biodiversity Area, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and Home to over 270 Species of Bird. but Also a Prime Target for Developers Looking to Build a Tourist Trade. Rudolf Abraham Investigates Whether the Fight to Keep a Montenegrin Beauty Spot Pristine Can Really Be Won

Article excerpt

Lake Skadar sprawls across the border between Montenegro and Albania - the largest lake In the Balkans, a national park, a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance) and an IBA (International Birding Area). It is an astonishingly beautiful place, surrounded by reed beds and mountains, its surface strewn with water lilies and water chestnuts.

Its biodiversity is incredibly rich. More than 270 species of bird have been recorded here, including the rare and iconic Dalmatian pelican, which nests on the lake, and huge numbers of pygmy cormorant. It is of particular importance as a stopover on winter migration routes, and the number wintering here regularly tops 200,000.

Lake Skadar (Skadarsko jezerd) was recognised as a Key Biodiversity Area in 2016, is a possible candidate for an Emerald Site (an ecological network created by the Council of Europe, made up of areas of 'Special Conservation Interest'), and since 2011 is also up for the status of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - although the Montenegrin government appears to have taken little action to date in securing this status.

Despite all of this, the lake faces several environmental challenges. A nearby aluminium plant pollutes it with heavy metals; pesticides are washed into the lake from the huge Plantaze vineyards and invasive species such as the Chinese carp have entered its waters. It is only due to the karst springs on the lakebed, and the huge volume of water washing through it from the River Moraca, that the lake remains so remarkably clean. Today, however, it faces a new threat.

THE DEVELOPMENT

On 27 March 2015, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism in Montenegro granted planning permission for a major new development on the shores of Lake Skadar. The planned resort, Porto Skadar, will see a large, completely new development in an area which as yet remains completely untouched. The resort will eventually sleep some 600 visitors and include a marina and luxury villas. The site of the development lies at Biski rep, a slender spit of land in the northwest corner of the lake, within Zone III of the national park, near the village of Mihailovici.

The decision by the Ministry to approve the project was controversial for a multitude of reasons, and Save Skadar Lake, an informal citizens group in Virpazar, along with other local conservation groups, are trying to oppose the construction, challenging the decision to approve the building permit. A petition started by Save Skadar Lake has amassed more than 6,800 signatures. Other international organisations that have added their voice include EuroNatur, Birdlife International, Ramsar, and the Office of the Bern Convention.

A Special Spatial Plan was carried out on the site, including an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), however the EIA is considered by many to be fundamentally flawed. For a start, the team undertaking it didn't actually include a biologist (it included a hydrologist and a geologist, but the standard procedure is to also include two biologists, one responsible for flora, one for fauna). Furthermore it didn't include a detailed analysis of the specific area of the development site at Biski rep - an area of the park never before assessed-because (to quote the report) 'the density of vegetation and [the steepness of the] slope... making [sic] it difficult to research the flora and fauna.

There are no written data of research in this area.' Instead, data is based on the whole of the lake basin. The EIA data even included a species which has not been present at the lake for many years now, the Egyptian vulture; whereas the Eurasian otter (categorised as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List), which is present at Lake Skadar, is mentioned only to the extent that 'knowledge of this species... is scarce, thus we can not say with certainty what concrete impact construction of buildings... will have.'

The public consultation for the project was only announced in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Montenegro - not a publication local residents are likely to read - meaning most people weren't even aware of it. …

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