Discovering the unknown: Science week at the Vjosa tributaries

 06/07/2021
Professor Gabriel Singer (University of Innsbruck) at the Shushica river taking water samples for providing further evidence that the river network of the Vjosa catchment needs the best protection possible. © Nick St.Oegger

++ 30 scientists from Austria, Albania, Italy and Germany assess the two major Vjosa tributaries for a week ++ Data will be used to fight planned hydropower projects in Albanian court ++

Tepelena/Brataj Albania, Vienna, Radolfzell, June 3, 2021. From May 29 to June 6, a science delegation from Austria, Albania, Italy and Germany collects multidisciplinary data from the two major Vjosa tributaries Shushica and Bënça. This research week is a follow-up of a comparable undertaking at the Vjosa in 2017, which contributed substantially to our success in establishing the ecological value of the Vjosa, fending off the hydropower projects (HPP) and which led to the designation as a protected area.

With this year’s research week, organized once again by the two lead scientists Prof. Fritz Schiemer (University of Vienna) and his Albanian counterpart Prof. Aleko Miho (University of Tirana), the scientists pursue a similar goal: while the hydropower threat to the Vjosa is averted for the time being, her major tributaries are still under attack. Five HPPs are projected on the Shushica, while the Bënça is threatened by no less than eight HPPs. The scientists explain, that in order to protect the Vjosa, it is vital to also protect her tributaries, as the uniqueness of the Vjosa river system lies in the intactness of the entire catchment.

“If you destroy her tributaries, the Vjosa will inevitably be destroyed too, just like the trunk of a tree eventually dies if you cut off all its branches”, Prof. Fritz Schiemer emphasizes.

The Shushica river with the famous Ottoman bridge at Brataj. Just upstream of this spot a dam is planned. © Nick St.Oegger

To show the value of these picturesque tributaries, multidisciplinary research is essential. Thus, it requires 30 experts from different disciplines to gain a comprehensive insight: hydromorphologists, vegetation ecologists, algologists, specialists in aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, ichthyologists, ornithologists, herpetologists, experts on self-purification processes and groundwater ecologists. The scientists spared no expense and effort to participate in this research week and contribute to the protection of these outstanding ecosystems. “We offer once again our support to the newly elected government of Albania in protecting the unique Vjosa river network and establishing Europe’s first wild river national park. If you build a single dam the option to be included in the future national park is lost” says Prof. Aleko Miho.

“The HPPs on the Shushica are currently the most imminent threat. Together with the local communities along the river and NGOs, we are determined to stop these projects. For this battle, the data collected will be crucial”, says Dorian Matlija, lawyer from the organization Res Publica.

The Shushica and Bënça, as well as other free-flowing tributaries should become part of a Vjosa National Park, the vision the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” coalition is fighting for, but therefore they need to remain undammed. If just one dam is built, the respective river could no longer be included in the national park. That would also destroy the economic opportunity from eco-tourism for the local communities.

Mag. Michaela Brojer from the Natural History Museum in Vienna at work. She is joining the 30 Scientists for Vjosa, assessing the river’s biodiversity. © Nick St.Oegger

Background information

  • The scientists held a press conference at the Vjosa Research Center in Tepelena. Find the recording HERE
  • The Vjosa is the last big wild river in Europe outside Russia. Along her course of almost 270 kilometers, the river flows entirely unobstructed from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea.
  • The initiative to protect the Vjosa is part of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, organized by Riverwatch and EuroNatur. In Albania, the local partner is EcoAlbania.
  • The “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign is supported amongst others by the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung

Further information

Prof Fritz Schiemer – University of Vienna  friedrich.schiemer@univie.ac.at 0043/69910188845.
Prof Aleko Miho – University of Tirana – aleko.miho@fshn.edu.al 0035/682707208
Dorian Matlija – ResPublica dorian.matlija@gmail.com 0035/699408875
Besjana Guri – EcoAlbania b.guri@ecoalbania.org 0035/692954214
Cornelia Wieser - Riverwatch cornelia.wieser@riverwatch.eu 0043/6504544784
Anja Arning – EuroNatur, anja.arning@euronatur.org, 0049/7732927213

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