Albanian Wetlands Facing Threats: Bird Census Reveals Decline

On the shore of Lake Shkodra, fishermen clean their nets
On the shore of Lake Shkodra, fishermen clean their nets 
 Albania, known for its rich biodiversity, has recently conducted a census focusing on its wetlands, revealing a decline in the number of waterbirds. The census, covering 33 wetland areas, engaged 91 specialists from the National Agency for Protected Areas, along with 11 bird experts from non-governmental organizations.

"The result of the census is that Albania has about 100,000 waterbirds this year, migrating through Albanian wetlands from north to south. From an importance perspective, Divjaka-Karavasta is the most crucial area, followed by Lake Shkodra, Vjosa-Narta, Kune-Vauni, and so on. If we look at the numbers since 1996, which we have been monitoring, there is a decrease in the number of waterbirds. This indicates the need to orient policies to better protect wetlands and increase the number of waterbirds," says Taulant Bino from the Ornithological Society of Albania.

In 38 counting locations for wintering waterbirds in Lake Shkodra, Vau i Dejes, Buna River, and Velipoja Lagoon, a significant decline in the number of wintering waterbirds was observed, signaling potential environmental issues.

"Throughout the European region this year, there has been a very mild winter, and waterbirds seeking better conditions forage without the need to migrate. This has influenced the number of wintering waterbirds, which has been about 30% lower than in other years," explains Tonin Macaj, an expert from the Agency for Protected Areas in the Shkodra Region.

Biologist Aurora Piroviq, an attentive observer of changes in Lake Shkodra, considers birds as indicators of the impact of climate change and human interventions in the environment.

"Birds are indicating the effects of climate change, but there is also a human factor. Illegal activities still exist, bringing concerns for birds, habitat disruptions, or interventions and threats to these birds," she says.

Over the past 80 years, Albania has experienced continuous interventions in wetlands, which are among the most rare and biologically rich ecosystems.

In recent years, according to ornithologist Mirjan Topi, these areas are also threatened by a trend towards urbanization.

"We have about 2.7% wetland systems, of which 1.5% are coastal wetlands, and about 1.2% are inland freshwater wetlands. Although they represent the rarest ecosystems, at the same time, they are the most endangered ecosystems in Albania. A large portion of investments has been focused precisely on these areas, investments related to energy, transportation, etc.," says ornithologist Mirjan Topi.

In November, 12 lawmakers presented changes to the law on protected areas in Albania, giving municipalities the right to manage about 20% of these areas. This move faced opposition from environmental groups as these changes open the door to the urbanization of these areas, further damaging the biodiversity of protected zones as a national asset.

Taulant Bino, the head of the Ornithological Society of Albania, emphasizes that environmental experts hope their voices will be heard to prevent the approval of these changes and to avoid jeopardizing protected areas in Albania.
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