TIRANA (Albania) - Monday saw Albanian officials declare the Vjosa River, and its tributaries, a future national parks. This was in an effort to preserve what they call one of Europe's last wild rivers.
The Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment has signed an agreement to collaborate with Patagonia, a California-based environmental group, to create an "integrated and sustainable plan" for the park.
Ryan Gellert, Patagonia, stated that "This is an opportunity for Europe to protect one river, really one the crown jewel rivers in Europe," The Associated Press.
Patagonia will work with EcoAlbania, Riverwatch, and EuroNatur to organize and finance a group of experts from around the globe who will create a framework for the park.
The Vjosa River stretches 270 km (170 mi) from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to Albania's Adriatic Coast.
Scientists believe the Vjosa ecosystem supports 1,100 species. 13 of these species are at great risk of extinction. It is also a valuable habitat for the 60,000 Albanians that live on its shores.
Mirela Kumbaro (Albanian minister for environment and tourism) said that the white stones are a perfect metaphor for Albanian nature and were sprayed with wildflower seedslings. She also encouraged visitors to visit its "turquoise-colored water in summer and torrential white white snowy waters winter."
He stated that the government had cancelled plans to build eight hydropower stations along the Vjosa and its tributaries, which were intended to generate electricity for the small country in the Western Balkans. According to environmentalists, the dams would have caused serious damage to river.
Officials didn't immediately reveal what would happen to the hydropower station Kalivac, on the Vjosa, which was only half-built.
Olsi Nika, EcoAlbania's one-of-the groups that opposed the dams, stated, "The agreement represents a serious step towards starting a jointly project of many actors not just of the government in building up the National Park."
Gellert and Nika both said that it could take many years for the national park to become official. It is currently a protected area. The government and environmental groups cannot immediately give an exact estimate of the size of the new park, as that would be a question for experts. Rama however stated that it would be Albania’s largest. At 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), Valbona Valley holds that distinction.
Leonardo DiCaprio was also teased by the prime minister for criticizing the Albanian government's inaction on protecting the Vjosa eco-system. Now that Albania has taken action, he suggested that "Nardi" (Albanian for Leonardo), may be able to help the project.
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