Cross-border cooperation with CEPF for Lake Skadar and its pelicans
Nestled between Montenegro and Albania, Lake Skadar has always captured its visitors – both human and bird – with its wild beauty and rich nature. Known as Skadar Lake to Montenegrins, Shkodra to Albanians, and Scutari to others, this iconic wetland in the Balkans is one of the largest bird reserves in Europe and harbours one of the largest birds in the world – Dalmatian Pelican.
Like the lake itself is shared by Montenegro and Albania, the pelicans, other biodiversity and the health of the habitat is a shared responsibility not only of both countries, but the international community. CEPF*-funded projects at Lake Skadar are proving that effective collaboration by local and international civil society organisations can be the best way to make positive results for conservation. The most successful breeding season for the Dalmatian Pelican has just happened at this transboundary site as a consequence!
Dalmatian Pelican are a traditional symbol of Lake Skadar and more recently there has been a rich tradition of conservation effort and investment into sustainable management at the lake. CEPF experienced this first-hand when two calls for Mediterranean project proposals in 2012 were met with huge interest in Lake Skadar from 15 non-governmental organisations (NGOs). To proceed most effectively without ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’, CEPF decided to organise and fund a workshop where all 15 NGOs plus 10 governmental and managing authorities met to settle on conservation priorities for the lake.
Learning from best-practice at Lake Prespa in Greece where the workshop was held, two project proposals emerged directly from the event that together aligned 10 organisations into collaborations for conserving Lake Skadar. CEPF is more than just a funding provider, it works to bring together and engage civil society for the long-term benefit of biodiversity.
Project 1: A new management system for Lake Skadar, 3 NGOs
A major priority for Lake Skadar is to have a sustainable management system that realistically includes the needs of the local Montenegrin and Albanian communities. Regardless of what side of the border they live, these people live on the lake shore and depend upon it for their livelihoods. So a key element in the project is to bring the concept of sustainable management of natural resources to them, increasing their sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the lake for generations to come.
That means education and engagement. It is not good for everyone if people fish during the spawning season or shoot and disturb endangered bird species. And it means synchronised trans-border management between authorities from both countries. Unfortunately the management system of protected areas on the Albanian side is currently undergoing significant structural changes, but grantees are busy preparing a set of modifications to cope with them.
The cooperation of two local NGOs with one international is proving to be an effective model of project implementation, which brings globally-effective examples of good practice to the locally-specific environment. Project coordinator International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) brings international expertise on protected area management, whilst Green Home of Montenegro and the Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania (INCA) provide local engagement.
Project 2: Conservation of Pelicans, a Key Biodiversity Species of Skadar Lake, 7 organisations
Lake Skadar harbours a small breeding population of Vulnerable Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, which has been struggling here since the 1970s due to many problems, mainly flooding and disturbance. In 2013, led by French NGO Noé Conservation, this large-grant CEPF project shows the power of even more collaborative partnerships.
The project aims to protect the colony and improve breeding success, with patrols by National Park guards, and floating nest platforms to reduce the impact of water level changes. Being an icon for the Lake Skadar, pelican-friendly tourism (Pelican Villages) will also promote the natural heritage of the entire lake, supported also by environmental education campaigns. The project also brings new practices in monitoring and research, and supports local institutions towards the main goal of a rich and stable pelican population.
As well as coordinators Noé Conservation, international partners Tour du Valat and EuroNatur provide expert support on scientific practices, which have ensured the recovery of pelican populations and wetland sites in other parts of the Balkan region. This knowledge is combined with lengthy experience gathered by local partners from both sides of the lake – CZIP (BirdLife in Montenegro) and APAWA (the Association for Protection of Aquatic Wildlife in Albania). Natural History Museum of Montenegro (traditionally most intensively involved in pelican study at the lake) and National Park of Skadar Lake (the main managing authority of the lake) combine with the Society for the Protection of Prespa and Pelicans Species Specialist Group (on a consultative basis). Altogether, these complementary actors share knowledge and experience, bringing strong cooperation to ensure the best protection of this critical ecosystem from both sides of the border.
And it is working! This year four nesting rafts were immediately accepted by the pelicans, and used for nesting. Now, from the population estimated at 70 individuals, 48 young pelicans have been counted! This is the biggest number of surviving chicks in over 37 years of counting on Lake Skadar. Both adult and young pelicans are squeezing onto the rafts or freely swimming around – a true nature spectacle and a promise of better days for the Dalmatian Pelican on Lake Skadar.
*BirdLife International - including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, BirdLife in France) - is providing the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) in the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot (CEPF Med). Find out more at www.birdlife.org/cepf-med.
*The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net.