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
0

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.”


On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

Updated 17 August 2018
0

On Thai island’s Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

  • Hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups
  • Hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans

KUALA LUMPUR: For the millions of sun seekers who head to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste may not be a top priority.
But the island’s hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores, and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike.
“Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.
“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Established in 2016 and with about 70 members — including all Phuket’s five-star hotels — the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list.
Last year the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.
As part of this, three months ago the association’s hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.
About five years ago, Lark’s own resort with about 40 villas used to dump into landfill about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually. It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.
The hotel association also teamed up with the documentary makers of “A Plastic Ocean,” and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.
Meanwhile hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups.
“The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink,” Lark said.
Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia — and faces similar challenges.
Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.
With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, media reports say, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster economy.
Popular with holiday makers and retirees, Phuket — like many other Southeast Asian resorts — must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.
Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket’s lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, said Susan Ruffo, a managing director at the US-based non-profit group Ocean Conservancy.
Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, UN Environment says.
Five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.
“As both creators and ‘victims’ of waste, the hotel industry has a lot to gain by making efforts to control their own waste and helping their guests do the same,” Ruffo said.
“We are seeing more and more resorts and chains start to take action, but there is a lot more to be done, particularly in the area of ensuring that hotel waste is properly collected and recycled,” she added.
Data on how much plastic is used by hotels and the hospitality industry is hard to find. But packaging accounts for up to 40 percent of an establishment’s waste stream, according to a 2011 study by The Travel Foundation, a UK-based charity.
Water bottles, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and even food delivered by room service all tend to use throw-away plastics.
In the past, the hospitality industry has looked at how to use less water and energy, said Von Hernandez, global coordinator at the “Break Free From Plastic” movement in Manila.
Now hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans.
“A lot of hotels are doing good work around plastics,” adopting measures to eliminate or shrink their footprint, said Hernandez.
But hotels in Southeast Asia often have to contend with poor waste management and crumbling infrastructure.
“I’ve seen resorts in Bali that pay staff to rake the beach every morning to get rid of plastic, but then they either dig a hole, and bury it or burn it on the beach,” said Ruffo. “Those are not effective solutions, and can lead to other issues.”
Hotels should look at providing reusable water containers and refill stations, giving guests metal or bamboo drinking straws and bamboo toothbrushes, and replacing single-use soap and shampoo containers with refillable dispensers, experts said.
“Over time, this could actually lower their operational costs — it could give them savings,” said Hernandez. “It could help change mindsets of people, so that when they go back to their usual lives, they have a little bit of education.”
Back in Phuket, the hotel association is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further, and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.
The hope is that what the group has learned over the last two years can be implemented at other Southeast Asian resorts and across the wider community.
“If the 20,000 staff in our hotels go home and educate mum and dad about recycling or reusing, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Lark.