The vengeful sea devouring Albania’s coast

A fisherman fishes from a shore washed with tree trunks and roots, in Kune, Lezhe on November 8, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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The vengeful sea devouring Albania’s coast

QERRET, Albanie: Asim Krasniqi watches anxiously as the Adriatic Sea creeps ever closer to his beach bar in Albania, a country faced with an alarming pace of coastal erosion.
“I’m nostalgic for how this place used to be,” the septuagenarian told AFP wistfully, remembering when this beach in Qerret, to the west of the capital Tirana, was bigger and “many more” foreign tourists came.
“Today everything is degraded,” he said.
Environmentalists say a dangerous mix of climate change and rampant, unregulated urban development are behind the rapid disappearance of the shoreline in the impoverished Balkan country.
“The sea has swallowed the coast. She is taking revenge on man, who has destroyed nature,” said Sherif LusHajj, an environmental specialist at Polis University in Tirana.
The initially “inconspicuous” phenomenon has become far more serious in recent years, LusHajj told AFP.
Further north along the coast, near the concrete constructions in the beach resort town of Shengjin, dozens of tree trunks are decaying in water, a reminder that there used to be a forest between the sea and Kune lagoon.
The lagoon is now threatened, less and less protected by a thin strip of land that is fast disappearing.
Once perched on sand dunes, nuclear bunkers built during the communist era of dictator Enver Hoxha also now barely emerge above the water. Others have been engulfed by the sea.
Of the 427 kilometers (265 miles) of Albania’s coast, “154 are affected by erosion,” Environment Minister Blendi Klosi told AFP.
Sometimes barely perceptible, the advance of the sea in other areas has reached a frightening pace of 20 meters a year, he said.
Near Shengjin, it has engulfed “some 400 meters of ground in the course of the last 15 years,” said the minister.
“This place will disappear if the state does not take necessary measures,” said Osman Demi, a fisherman in his sixties who remembers the “terrible night” of December 31, 2009, when sudden floods submerged his village.
“We fish bass, crab, mullet here. The destruction of this lagoon would be a catastrophe,” said his colleague Albert Pati, adding that in certain corners, once full of fish, “the water is already dead.”
Pelicans have disappeared from the lagoon. A census conducted a year ago found just 7,000 birds, down from 50,000 in the 1970s.
Soon, if nothing is done, the people living here will also leave. There are 2,000 whose homes are threatened by the water, according to Jak Gjini, in charge of environmental issues in the Lezhe municipality, which covers Shengjin.
“The situation is dramatic,” he said.
Everything is working in favor of the sea’s conquest. There is climate change, with increasingly violent winter storms driving the water further and further in.
Then there is Albania’s massive deforestation, the extraction of sand from the rivers and rampant urbanization along the coast.
Almost deserted in winter, Shengjin is home to 15,000 people in the summer as holidaymakers and seasonal staff take up residence in blocks of multi-story concrete buildings, constructed on the sandy soil of the lagoon.
Those who have invested here are “the bosses,” said a fisherman with an enigmatic smile. These “bosses” build without permits, which they get after the building is erected using bribery during election campaigns, or hard cash.
“People are afraid to take on the interests of the powerful. It’s the law of the strongest,” said Gjini.
“These constructions are the result of pressure exerted by individuals to build without regard for urban planning.”
In his bar in Qerret, Krasniqi points out the rocky piers perpendicular to the coast that are sinking into the sea.
They were built without authorization by the owners of villas or hotels on the coast who hoped to protect their own property from erosion — but in doing so, they simply shifted the problem onto neighboring constructions.
“They have changed the currents, aggravating the problem,” he said.
Minister Klosi promises that “all the illegal construction in the sea will be destroyed and those responsible will be punished.”
But even this unprecedented action would not be enough, according to Eglantina Bruci, climate change specialist for the United Nations Development Programme in Tirana.
“The only solution... would be the construction of rock structures parallel to the coast and dune replenishment.”
Gjini said the cost of such measures would be “extraordinary” for one of the poorest countries in Europe — but by doing nothing, Albania anyway gets poorer by the day, he warned.
“Albania’s land is shrinking.”


Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018
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Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“