Ohrid-Prespa Biosphere Reserve threatened by tourism plans, Macedonia

Wetland drainage, an express road, a ski-resort & tourism development zones imminently threaten ancient Lake Ohrid, National Park Galichica & the UNESCO Ohrid-Prespa Biosphere Reserve.


Description

The government of the Republic of Macedonia is pursuing an aggressive urbanization and development drive to exploit the UNESCO Ohrid-Prespa Biosphere Reserve for mass-market tourism. Plans that will directly impact the globally unique ecosystems of two ancient lakes and one of Europe's most biodiverse mountains, National Park Galichica, include an express road; railroad; marina; ski-resort; numerous lake-shore constructions; and the drainage and cementing of Studenchishte Marsh, the last remains of a vital, lake-filtering wetland. These ecologically reckless activities will impact upon habitats of recognized international importance. Known as a museum of living fossils and theater of evolution with over 200 species that exist nowhere else on the planet, Lake Ohrid is thought to be the most biodiverse inland water on Earth by surface area. It is also the epicenter for most of the development projects. Meanwhile, karstic National Park Galichica, proposed site of the express road and ski resort, is an Emerald Site, Important Plant Area, and, with upwards of 1,500 lepidoptera taxa, a Prime Butterfly Area too. Its 50 plus kinds of mammal include the Balkan chamois, gray wolf, brown bear, and potentially Balkan lynx, which, with less than 50 individuals still in existence, is one of the most endangered cat species worldwide. The area's incredible ability to convey wildlife is in stark contrast to its low potential as a winter sports playground: The combination of few days annually with appropriate weather conditions and the karstic profile of the mountain make it largely unsuitable for a ski-resort.  Reacting to the development plans, UNESCO has warned that the projects would represent a case for inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In other words, the region's iconic status may soon be lost.         Activists have come under pressure from authorities to discontinue their support for environmentally sustainable solutions. One has been criminally charged, but the charges were later dropped upon a series of police interviews; another received warning at work; a third was advised by members of the ruling party to desist. Comments submitted by OhridSOS as part of an official public consultation process for the express road, ski-resort and several tourism development zones have disappeared and were replaced with a substitute document. Despite requests for an explanation, none has been provided by authorities, the EBRD or Citrus Partners LLP.

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Basic Data
NameOhrid-Prespa Biosphere Reserve threatened by tourism plans, Macedonia
CountryMacedonia, FYR
SiteOhrid-Prespa
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Tourism Recreation
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Deforestation
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesTourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAt minimum, proposed Ohrid-Prespa developments will action the total loss or degradation of 50 hectares of wetland; 319 hectares of alpine and sub-alpine calcareous grassland; 106 hectares of common juniper scrub; 87 hectares of beech forests; 40 hectares of listed plant communities; 84 hectares of Macedonian oak forest; and 59 hectares of Hungarian oak forest. Of these, the grassland, juniper, beech, and Macedonian oak habitats are all protected under the EC Habitats Directive

In addition, 604 hectares from National Park Galichica's Zone of Active Management will be illegally reduced to Zone of Sustainable Use (although other ZSU areas will be upgraded). One reason for the rezoning is to accommodate a 26km express road from the town of Ohrid to the state border. Another is to convey 15km of ski-pistes. Because natural snowfall is inadequate, 104,500 m³ of water will be required per season to facilitate the production of artificial snow. The source of this water is yet to be identified.

Biodiversity offsets have been proposed for some of the habitat loss. However, not only does Macedonia lack the robust experiential and legal framework for such measures, but the methodology proposed is unproven, designed for another country, and unsuitable for a national park with such high species richness. Indeed, several particularly sensitive or unique habitats are impossible to offset, or have no identified area in which offsets can be implemented.
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date01/01/2015
Company Names or State EnterprisesElectricity Transmission System Operator of Macedonia (MEPSO) from Macedonia, FYR - Commissioner for the Business Plan for proposed National Park Galicica ski-resort
Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners Ltd. from Canada - Ski-resort designer
Public Institution National Park Galicica (PINPG) from Macedonia, FYR - SEA Project Proponent
Citrus Partners LLP from United Kingdom - Environmental and Social Consultants
Relevant government actorsGovernment of the Republic of Macedonia

Municipality of Ohrid
International and Financial InstitutionsEuropean Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) - Part-financier for the Ohrid-Pestani-State border express road
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFront 21/42, Macedonia - [email protected]

Ekosvest, Macedonia - http://www.ekosvest.com.mk/

EuroNatur, Germany - https://www.euronatur.org/landingpage/landing-page/

European Center for Nature Conservation - http://www.ecnc.org/

Society of Wetlands Scientists (European Chapter) - http://www.sws.org/europe-chapter
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
OtherLight pollution;
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Land dispossession
OtherThe Ohrid-Prespa region contains countless endemic species and its ecosystems are a scientific treasure-box for numerous fields of research including evolutionary biology, biomimicry, paleoclimatology, paleoecology and even medicine. UNESCO status for the Biosphere Reserve may be lost.
Outcome
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Activists have come under pressure from authorities to discontinue their support for environmentally sustainable solutions. One has been criminally charged, but the charges were later dropped upon a series of police interviews; another received warning at work; a third was advised by members of the ruling party to desist. Comments submitted by OhridSOS as part of an official public consultation process for the express road, ski-resort and several tourism development zones have disappeared and were replaced with a substitute document. Despite requests for an explanation, none has been provided by authorities, the EBRD or Citrus Partners LLP.
Development of AlternativesProf. Stefan Bouzarovski of the University of Manchester in cooperation with Macedonian NGO Ekosvest has created a SMART Ohrid concept vision as an alternative to the proposed national park express road. It intends to reduce traffic volume with provision of green public transport and toll zones for cars.

Alternatives to the construction of a ski-resort and lakeshore infrastructure for mass tourism focus on nature, culture, adventure, archaeology, geology and ecological tourism as higher value, lower impact options. The Ohrid-Prespa region demonstrates firm potential in these sectors due to its UNESCO status for both culture and nature; specific geological composition; ecological bounty; long history as one of the earliest inhabited regions of Europe; and dramatic scenery.

Instead of draining Lake Ohrid's last wetlands, placing them at the center of an archaeo-ecological attraction has been suggested. This would involve the development of a visitor center to explore the Galapagos-like ecosystems of the region incorporating three diverse yet related features: an area of pre-Christian water worship at the site of a Byzantium church; an unique karstic spring; and the Studenchishte Marsh wetlands that are so vital to the ongoing ecological integrity of Lake Ohrid.

In addition, further encouragement of scientific research is also necessary both to access the wealth of knowledge locked within Ohrid-Prespa ecosystems and to diversify the regional economy.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The quest for environmental justice can only be considered a success when the projects threatening the UNESCO Ohrid-Prespa Biosphere Reserve have been abandoned. Right now, they remain imminent.
Sources and Materials
References

European Commission Staff Working Document, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 2016 Report (EC expresses concern "about the insufficient protection of protected areas, areas of high natural value and potential Natura 2000 sites" and presents a damning picture of the political & legal context in which the drive to urbanize Ohrid-Prespa takes place.)
[click to view]

Eutrophication of ancient Lake Ohrid: Global warming amplifies detrimental effects of increased nutrient inputs (Matzinger et al, 2007: Journal paper describes how nutrient loads to Lake Ohrid must be severely reduced if it is to avoid a eutrophication process that will suffocate its unique ecosystems. Current developments are likely to accelerate pollution.)
[click to view]

Draft Report on the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the General Urban Plan for Ohrid 2014-2024, by Municipality of Ohrid (Macedonian language only)
[click to view]

UNESCO State of Conservation, Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region (UNESCO explains why plans for the ski-resort, express road and railroad "would represent a case for inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.")
[click to view]

IUCN World Heritage Outlook Assessment for the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Lake Ohrid region
[click to view]

IUCN Red List entry for the critically endangered Balkan Lynx, which has potential habitat at National Park Galichica
[click to view]

A freshwater biodiversity hotspot under pressure – assessing threats and identifying conservation needs for ancient Lake Ohrid (Kostoski et al, 2010: Journal paper describes the multiple threats that currently endanger Lake Ohrid, including tourism and associated infrastructure.)
[click to view]

Corruption Perceptions Index 2016
[click to view]

Links

Europe's Oldest Lake Faces Destruction to Make Way for Tourists - New Scientist article on dangers to Lake Ohrid wetlands
[click to view]

EBRD's Planned Destruction of Lake Ohrid Biosphere Reserve - The Ecologist
[click to view]

Lake Ohrid - A Paradise in Peril (Lake Ohrid researchers Thomas Wilke and Christian Albrecht explain how new development plans could be a catastrophe for Lake Ohrid)
[click to view]

¿Cuánto dinero vale un enclave geográfico con millones de años de antigüedad? El Pais (Spanish Language article)
[click to view]

OhridSOS website with Declaration signed by experts from across the world
[click to view]

Media Links

Prof. Dr. Jos Verhoeven, Society of Wetland Scientists' European Chapter President, explains the need to conserve Lake Ohrid's Studenchishte Marsh wetland.
[click to view]

Prof. S. Buzarovski of the University of Manchester outlines smart, green alternatives to the proposed National Park Galichica express road.
[click to view]

Leonardo Mazza, Policy Officer for Ecosystems and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) expresses the EEB's deep concern at the development proposals for the Lake Ohrid region
[click to view]

Other Documents

Studenchishte Marsh as an Integral Part of Ancient Lake Ohrid: Current Status and Need for Protection (Apostolova et al) Journal paper in Wetland Science and Practice Vol. 33, No. 2 June 2016 on the importance of and danger to Lake Ohrid's Studenchishte Marsh wetland
[click to view]

Public Institution National Park Galicica, Draft Amendments to the Management Plan for National Park Galichica for the Period 2011-2020, Strategic Environmental Assessment SEA for the ski-resort, road and lakeshore tourism development zones by Citrus Partners LLP
[click to view]

Business Masterplan for Development and Construction of a Ski Center in the Galichica National Park Horwath Hotel, Leisure and Tourism outline a ski-resort vision on behalf of Macedonian state-owned electricity company Mepso
[click to view]

Scientist Comments for the Protection of Ohrid-Prespa Collected short quotations from scientists and experts on the need to protect Lake Ohrid and the surrounding region
[click to view]

View across Lake Ohrid View across Lake Ohrid with small boats. Photo: Jaime Pérez via Flickr (CC BY-NC): http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2985975/macedonia_ebrds_planned_destruction_of_lake_ohrid_biosphere_reserve.html
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorOhridSOS, [email protected]
Last update08/02/2017
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