Al­ba­nia’s pel­i­cans re­turn to their la­goon ‘king­dom’

Down to a proac­tive pol­icy by Al­ba­nian au­thor­i­ties

Kuwait Times - - Health -

TIRANA: With feath­ers on its head that make it look like it is wear­ing a wig, it does not go un­no­ticed-the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can is back with a flour­ish in the Div­jaka La­goon in west­ern Al­ba­nia. The ex­pan­sive site is one of the most im­por­tant wet­lands in the Adri­atic basin, key for mi­gra­tory wildlife and as a breed­ing area for the large el­e­gant pel­i­can.

But like other spots in Europe, the pic­turesque la­goon has suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age at the hands of man and the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can came close to de­sert­ing it. Now a re­turn in force of the bird, whose wing­span reaches up to three me­ters, is down to a proac­tive pol­icy by Al­ba­nian au­thor­i­ties, of­ten crit­i­cized for be­ing pas­sive on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. “The king has re­turned this win­ter,” said Fatos Jolla hap­pily, a 67-year-old fish­er­man on the la­goon.

‘A king­dom’

Since the 1980s, Europe’s bird pop­u­la­tion has de­clined by sev­eral tens of mil­lions, ac­cord­ing to or­nithol­o­gists. The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) has in­cluded the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can (Pele­canus cris­pus) on its red list as it be­lieves that 80 per­cent of its breed­ing sites in Europe have dis­ap­peared. At the Div­jaka La­goon, the pel­i­cans had al­most com­pletely aban­doned their nests, al­though pre­vi­ously “the Div­jaka-Kar­avasta Na­tional Park was con­sid­ered its king­dom,” said its head, Adrian Koci. “From 250 breed­ing pairs in the 1960s, we ar­rived at 17 in 2000-2001. “We re­turned to 52 pairs and 57 births in 2017,” he said.

Sal­va­tion is­land

A small is­land of 22 square kilo­me­ters, in the mid­dle of the la­goon, has been cru­cial to help­ing lure back the birds. The nest­ing sites were raised so as not to be threat­ened by the ris­ing wa­ter, barbed wire has been placed to pre­vent tourists from ac­cess­ing and hunt­ing was banned in 2016.

A pel­i­can was shot in mid-Fe­bru­ary, but the hun­ters were iden­ti­fied and face two to four years in prison. The re­cov­ery is frag­ile and saw a set­back re­cently, Koci said. “The trend was promis­ing un­til Fe­bru­ary. But bad weather, snow and wind dis­turbed the colony. “Some pel­i­cans have even aban­doned their nests and eggs,” said Koci, who hopes to see the birds re­turn in April.

Ur­ban­iza­tion

How­ever, fur­ther de­ter­mined steps are needed to en­sure the long term nest­ing of the birds at the la­goon, he said. There need to be chan­nels cre­ated be­tween the la­goon and the sea “which has not been done for 20 years, to al­low the cir­cu­la­tion of fresh wa­ter and oxy­gen... and the en­try of fish”, the ba­sis of the pel­i­cans’ diet, Koci added. Night­time fish­er­men, who are de­plet­ing the fish stock with their nets and elec­tric lamps, should also be tracked down and banned, he sug­gested. Sa­jmir Hoxha, co­or­di­na­tor in Al­ba­nia of Noe, a French con­ser­va­tion as­so­ci­a­tion for the pro­tec­tion of bio­di­ver­sity, said the au­thor­i­ties must tackle in par­tic­u­lar ram­pant de­vel­op­ment of the coast­line. “We fear these ma­jor ur­ban­i­sa­tion projects that go against en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and the nat­u­ral bal­ances,” he said. The Mediter­ranean Wet­lands Alliance, a gath­er­ing of some 20 as­so­ci­a­tions from 12 coun­tries for the pro­tec­tion of wet­lands, last year voiced con­cerns over the pos­si­ble con­struc­tion of a tourist com­plex in Div­jaka. It cau­tioned that the planned de­vel­op­ment could “de­stroy the nat­u­ral wealth and bi­o­log­i­cal diver­sity of the area”.

But fears re­main

Not­ing that 70 per­cent of the Balkan coun­try’s wet­lands have al­ready been de­stroyed, or­nithol­o­gists and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists wrote to Prime Min­is­ter Edi Rama ask­ing him to veto the project. It was sus­pended, but the ac­tivists fear that the halt may only be tem­po­rary. “It would mean the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can and other species that make the diver­sity of this park,” warned Koci.—AFP

This pic­ture taken on March 11, 2018, shows curly pel­i­cans hatch eggs in the Kar­avasta la­goon, part of the Div­jake Kar­avasta Na­tional Park. — AFP

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