9 July 1996
At the end of June, a Ramsar Bureau representative visited Tirana, Albania, to take part in an international meeting to advise the Government of Albania on management of one of the country's most important wetlands, Karavasta Lagoon. Karavasta, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, is the first Ramsar site designated by Albania, one of the Convention's newest Contracting Parties and one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in Europe. Karavasta is currently the subject of an EU-funded project which aims to establish a management plan for the 20,000 hectare wetland, and to set up an appropriate legal framework for implementation of the plan. Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques have been applied to identify the priorities of local communities, whose support is crucial to the success or failure of the project.
Whilst it was the presence of breeding Dalmatian Pelicans (a globally endangered species) that first drew international attention to Karavasta, the area has considerable social and economic importance as well. For example, the lagoon supports a significant fishery, with a yield currently averaging about 300 tonnes per year. The beach on the seaward side of the lagoon is an important summer recreation centre for Albanians, with the number of users growing exponentially alongside the number of automobiles - donkey and cart having been the only mode of transport for ordinary citizens until the last couple of years. The area is also important for agriculture and subsistence hunting. None of the small towns and villages around the lagoon has sewage treatment facilities - a situation common to the whole of Albania - and water quality in the lagoon is under threat.
All of these factors mean that the management plan being prepared is addressing sustainable economic development, based on land-use zonation, as well as traditional biodiversity conservation. One idea currently under discussion is the use of constructed wetlands to provide sewage treatment for local settlements. The EU project is being implemented by Technital S.p.a. (Italy), Ecoutourism Ltd. (UK), and the Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat (France), in conjunction with the Ramsar authority in Albania, the Committee for Environmental Protection.
-- Reported by Tim Jones, Ramsar Technical Officer for Europe