This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.
Text and Photos by iLCP Fellows Jaime Rojo and Francisco Márquez.
Skadar Lake is the biggest lake on the Balkan Peninsula, a transboundary wetland of international importance shared by Montenegro and Albania. The lake hosts a small breeding colony of Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), one of the largest birds in the world and classified as Vulnerable at an international level. Since the 17th century, 80% of the Dalmatian Pelican’s breeding sites have disappeared, and today, its presence in Europe is limited to only 13 wetlands in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
For decades, the colony in Skadar had struggled to survive due to the floods that would wash out the nests every season. Human disturbance caused by fishermen and tourist boats approaching the colony was also a major problem for the birds. In 2013, learning from best-practice at Lake Prespa in Greece, home of a very successful pelican conservation story, a team of grantees from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) led by French NGP Noe Conservation started a transboundary collaborative effort to implement a new management system in Skadar Lake that would favor the conservation of the pelicans while allowing for the sustainable development of the local communities.
Among many other conservation activities, the team focused on the design and introduction of floating rafts for the pelicans, an ingenious solution to mitigate the effect of the annual flooding that had destroyed the nests in the past. Andrej Vizi, an ornithologist from the Natural History Museum has been responsible for the installation and monitoring of these rafts. “Once the breeding ground is established as a solid and durable structure, and once it is adopted by the pelicans, this population can start its way to stabilization” After two years in place, the pelicans have adopted these rafts as their nesting ground, and 2014 and 2015 were the most successful breeding seasons in the recorded history of Skadar Lake.
Other actions included an increase in ranger patrols to avoid disturbance of the colony during breeding season, and an education program with the local communities to strengthen their sense of ownership and responsibility toward the lake and the pelicans. For 16,000 people, Skadar Lake is the main source of livelihood and the conservation of the lake can directly influence their well-being. Bjanka Prakljačić, project coordinator from Noe Conservation, is very keen on this idea “The participation of local fishermen is a very important part of the project; these are the people whose daily lives depend on the lake. If they are not interested, nor motivated, we would loose all progress very quickly”.
Vaselj Donaj is a fisherman from Podhum, a small village in the northern shore of Skadar Lake. He has been fishing since he was a little boy, following the family tradition and he has now developed a new relationship with these birds, one of respect and understanding. “They are our neighbors. We live with these pelicans; they are day and night in front of our homes. From my balcony I can hear them when they are yelling! ” It is thank to the efforts of the project that people like Vaselj have become ambassadors for the conservation of the lake and the pelicans “For me Skadar Lake is the biggest treasure, if we know how to preserve it.”
To document the story of Skadar Lake, the photographers of The Living Med worked very closely with the local partners, also grantees from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, to share their knowledge of the region and the story “Skadar Lake is a region of breathtaking scenery and we wanted to create a film that was both beautiful and informative” says Jaime Rojo, co-director of the film. “Working directly with the staff from Noe Conservation and the Natural History Museum of Montenegro was instrumental to the success of the project, as was the collaboration with Kawka Productions, a Balkans-based video production company that introduced us to the region and generously shared their deep knowledge of the area”
Created by iLCP Fellows Francisco Márquez, Jaime Rojo and Iñaki Relanzón in 2010, The Living Med is a conservation photography and multimedia communications project, with the Mediterranean Hotspot at its heart. For more information, please visit: http://www.thelivingmed.org
Click below for a video on the work of The Living Med in Lake Skadar.
Support the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers by donating at this link.