Turquoise waters. Rich underwater fauna and biodiversity. Ruins of sunken Greek, Roman and World War II ships.
This is Karaburun Sazan Peninsula – the first and only national marine park of Albania.
The park covers a marine area stretching 1.9 km along the coastlines of Karaburun Peninsula and Sazan Island on the southwestern side of Albania where the Adriatic and Ionion Seas meet.
The biodiversity, landscape and heritage of this area are unusual for the Mediterranean. But despite its riches, the area was severely threatened by fishing and development activities.
Illegal fishing activities - the use of explosives and fishing with banned methods - massively damaged the area and the fish stock, as well as putting fishermen’s lives in danger. Local fisherman Sherif Durmishi was disheartened by what was happening.
“It was so painful to see rare fish species ending up in the fish market.”
Sherif notes that many in the local communities didn’t understand the value of the area’s unique biodiversity. No one was aware of the “protected area” concept and believed that protecting the area meant hindering economic activities and keeping land owners from income generating activities.
Albania has experienced rapid economic growth and coastal tourism during the last two decades. Coastal development has resulted in marine resource exploitation threatening Albania's diverse marine ecosystems, including temperate coral and rocky reefs, soft sediment communities, and some of the last healthy seagrass habitats in the Mediterranean Sea. Despite pressure from development and artisanal fishing, marine ecosystems were unprotected until 2010.
Protecting an area such a Karaburun Sazan Peninsula required both the knowledge and buy-in of the local communities, as well as a plan that balanced development and protection.
For two years, UNDP, with funding by GEF, and partners conducted feasibility studies to identify key biological gaps in conservation and management of the marine areas. Extensive consultations with everyone from government leaders to local community members gathered feedback for the preservation and long term vision of Vlora Bay.
An extensive public awareness and advocacy campaign targeting students, civil society, and local administration helped raise awareness about the need to conserve the marine coastal protected areas and promote the biodiversity and tourism values hosted in this genuine ecosystem.
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