As an Albanian NGO with strong leadership in protecting species, habitats, and Protected Areas and towards sustainability in the use of natural resources, which includes efforts in improving and advocating for proper Protected Area management, it is clear that the primary goal of Protected Areas, such as Divjaka-Karavasta, Butrinti, and Lure Mali i Dejes National Parks in Albania, is to sustain the intrinsic natural values they encompass. These values span a variety of critical aspects, from safeguarding endangered species and habitats to protecting the larger ecosystems that face threats from the expanding human footprint.
All protected areas should aim to:
- Conserve the composition, structure, function and evolutionary potential of biodiversity;
- Contribute to regional conservation strategies (as core reserves, buffer zones, corridors, stepping-stones for migratory species etc.);
- Maintain diversity of landscape or habitat and of associated species and ecosystems;
- Be of sufficient size to ensure the integrity and long-term maintenance of the specified conservation targets or be capable of being increased to achieve this end;
- Maintain the values for which it was assigned in perpetuity;
- Be operating under the guidance of a management plan, and a monitoring and evaluation programme that supports adaptive management;
- Possess a clear and equitable governance system. (cited at IUCN guideline)
When effectively designed and managed, protected areas in Albania can extend benefits beyond the scope of biodiversity conservation. They can support diverse stakeholders and enhance the management of these areas themselves. These benefits, often referred to as ecosystem services or nature’s contributions to people, cover a broad spectrum. In Albania’s context, this could mean conserving forests that serve as carbon sinks, safeguarding wetlands that purify our water, and maintaining landscapes that offer recreational and touristic appeal.
For instance, Divjaka-Karavasta National Park is not just a refuge for the rich biodiversity, including the endangered Dalmatian pelican, but it also offers significant benefits to the local communities through sustainable fishing, eco-tourism, and educational opportunities.
Moreover, our experience reflects the understanding and appreciation of the benefits provided by Protected Areas directly influencing local support for their management. This is evident in how such benefits translate into tangible contributions to well-being and livelihoods, like job creation, skills development, and revenue generation through local activities, services, arts and crafts.
In Albania, adopting an inclusive approach to stakeholder engagement is crucial for the success of Protected Area management. This approach must move beyond merely informing people about management plans to actively soliciting their opinions and involving them in conservation efforts. Such participation fosters a sense of ownership and ideally yields direct benefits.
The Protected Areas Benefits Assessment Tool (PA-BAT) has been instrumental in promoting such an inclusive stakeholder engagement strategy. In Albania, under the guidance of the Albanian Ornithological Society, the implementation of (PA BAT) — emphasizes a participatory approach, ensuring local stakeholders are central to the dialogue about the values and benefits of areas like Divjaka-Karavasta, Butrinti, and Lure Mali i Dejes.
The collective insights and practices gained from international experiences underscore the ongoing importance of stakeholder involvement in the management of protected areas in Albania. This participatory approach is particularly relevant as we work to contribute to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, to Green Agenda of Western Balkans also to European Biodiversity 2030 where the conservation of nature and biodiversity is acknowledged as fundamental.
In conclusion, adapting the lessons from global examples to the Albanian context through tools like PA-BAT+ enhances the conservation and management strategies for our invaluable PA.
This project is carried out with the support of SMART Balkans, which supports AOS through the national grant.