Montenegro and Albania cooperate on Lake Skadar


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International meeting for the future of Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar soon a transboundary Ramsar Site

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro and Prime Minister Sali Berisha of Albania opened on 18 October 2005 an international conference on the theme "Lake Skadar international designations for territorial development" in the new National Park offices situated at the lake shores next to Vranjina fishing village. In their respective speeches the Prime Ministers underlined the importance of coordinated and comprehensive territorial development plans for this important lake and its watershed shared between their two countries.

The meeting was organized by the "Dinaric Arc Initiative", a framework of collaboration between the relevant offices of UNESCO, WWF, IUCN, UNDP and the Council of Europe. The meeting's main objective was to discuss with all major stakeholders the future development scenarios of the transboundary territory of Skadar lake and its catchment basin, a unique wetland in the karst landscape of southeastern Europe, boasting an extraordinary natural and cultural heritage.

During the first day, after the Prime Ministers, the Environment Ministers Boro Vucinic (Montenegro) and Lufter Xhuveli (Albania) underlined the important ecosystem services provided by the lake and its tributaries for hydrology, climate and biodiversity. This was supported by statements concerning its importance for local economies, such as fisheries, tourism, and agriculture, by Mayor Mugosa of Podgorica (Montenegro) and Mayor Haxhi of Shkodra (Albania), the Prefect of the Shkodra Region, and the head of the Shkodra Marketing Room and Municipality Council. The natural and cultural values of the lake were underlined by Zoran Mrdak, the Director of Lake Skadar National Park, and Zlatko Buric, the Director of the Nature Conservation Institute (both Montenegro), as well as by Rector Hoti of Shkodra University.

The Montenegro part of Skadar Lake was declared a National Park in 1983 and designated by the (then) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 1995. At the conference in Vranjina, Environment Minister Xhuveli announced that the Albanian part of the lake and the downstream floodplain along the outflowing Buna/Bojana river (forming the border between the two countries), including the lagoon next to Velipoja village at the Adriatic Sea, will receive national protection and be listed under Ramsar later this year.

This encouraging announcement - and the results of the transboundary cooperation already under way locally through the "lake forum" established by the project for the management of shared natural resources by the Regional Environment Centre (REC) offices in Podgorica and Shkodra, as part of the Regional Environmental Reconstruction Programme for SE Europe (with financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, SDC) - laid the ground for the discussions during the second day of the conference. After a boat trip in Lake Skadar National Park, the conference participants drove across the border to Shkodra town. Here, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the Dinaric Arc Initiative partners, and others such as REC, FAO and SDC engaged in detailed discussions with the Albanian and Montenegro stakeholders on how best to manage and conserve the shared resources. Consensus was reached on a kind of bilateral committee which should develop proposals on priority management issues for decision-making by the relevant authorities. UNESCO offered to facilitate the holding of a next bilateral meeting in early 2006, together with these international partners, in order to keep the cooperation going.

The Ramsar Secretariat profited from this occasion to undertake a Ramsar Advisory Mission to the Ramsar Site Skadarsko Jezero (N°784, Serbia and Montenegro) and to discuss current management issues with the National Park authorities, the Montenegro Ministry of Environmental Protection and Physical Planning and the Ramsar administrative authority for Serbia and Montenegro, in the Ministry for Science and Environmental Protection in Belgrade. A formal mission report will be published on this Web site when available. The on-site Ramsar Secretariat visit was the occasion to acknowledge substantial progress made recently with the conservation and management of the site and to underline the hope to see Skadar/Shkodra lake become declared as a transboundary Ramsar site by both countries very soon.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

From left to right: Montenegro Environment Minister Vucinic and Prime Minister Djukanovic (speaking), UNDP facilitator, Albanian Prime Minister Berisha and Environment Minister Xhuveli opening the international conference in Vranjina on 18 October 2005.

Behind the Ministers’ backs, the spectacular view from the Skadar Lake National Park offices over the extensive floating water chestnut (Trapa natans) beds on the lake.

The ground floor of the National Park offices is rented to the “lake” (jezero) restaurant, a visitor attraction providing necessary income to the National Park.

A lake extending over an area between 300 and 500 sqkm (depending on the water level) in an otherwise dry and hot karst landscape necessarily becomes an important source of water and wetland biodiversity, including many breeding and wintering waterbirds (including a Dalmatian pelican colony) and economically important fisheries.

Lake Skadar/Shkodra’s magnificent landscapes under the Mediterranean sun and its plentiful cultural heritage, including many medieval monasteries and fortresses (pictured is the ruined prison of Grmožur island – now used by colonially breeding birds), are a tourist attraction, as illustrated by the picture of the inflowing river at Virpazar village.

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