Scientists for Vjosa

Eco-Masterplan for Balkan Rivers: Drawing a Line in the Sand

Produced by the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, this masterplan for the Balkan rivers defines river stretches of high ecological value in the region, including in Albania, and provides a spatial plan for their protection. It identifies “no-go” areas along important river stretches, where hydropower development would be damaging to extraordinary natural ecosystems.

The study provides prospective outcomes for the socio-economic development of the area, by comparing the increase of income and local welfare through hydropower installation on the one and the establishment of a National Natural Park on the other hand, over a period of 35 years, concluding that hydropower dams would have ‘a negative impact on the socio-economic, environmental and biological aspects of the area’, since they would cause a loss of employment in the agriculture-livestock sector and tourism – the area’s current mainstay.  

The analyses conclude that the Vjosa valley would benefit socio-economically by turning into a National Natural Park; as such, employment would be increased, while the generated income would reach the local communities. Especially solarpower, instead of hydropower, as a prospective energy source bears the potential of improving the infrastructure of the valley in line with the conservation of the valley’s assets.

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30 scientists assess Vjosa tributaries, data will be used to fight in court the hydropower projects

Tepelena/Brataj Albania, Vienna, Radolfzell, June 3, 2021. From May 29 to June 6, a group of scientists from Austria, Albania, Italy and Germany, collected multidisciplinary data from the two major Vjosa tributaries Shushica and Bence. This research week is a follow-up of a comparable undertaking at the Vjosa in 2017 (HYPERLINK), which contributed substantially to our success in establishing the ecological value of the Vjosa, fending off the hydropower projects (HPP) and the designation as a protected area.

With this year’s research week, organized once again by the two lead scientists Prof. Fritz Schiemer (University of Vienna) and his Albanian counterpart Prof. Aleko Miho (University of Tirana, the scientists pursue a similar goal: while the hydropower threat to the Vjosa is averted for the time being, her major tributaries are still under attack. Five HPPs are projected on the Shushica, while the Bence is threatened by no less than eight HPPs. The scientists explain, that in order to protect the Vjosa, it is vital to also protect her tributaries, as the uniqueness of the Vjosa river system lies in the intactness of the entire catchment.

“If you destroy her tributaries, the Vjosa will inevitably be destroyed too, just like the trunk of a tree eventually dies if you cut off all its branches.” Fritz Schiemer emphasizes.

To show the value of this picturesque tributaries, multidisciplinary research is essential.  Thus, it required 35 experts from different disciplines to gain a comprehensive insight: hydromorphologists, vegetation ecologists, algologists, specialists in aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, ichthyologists, ornithologists, herpetologists, experts self-purification processes and groundwater ecologists. The scientists spared no expense and effort to participate in this research week and contribute to the protection of these outstanding ecosystems.

“We offer once again our support to the newly elected government of Albania in protecting the unique Vjosa river network and establishing Europe’s firt wild river national park. If you build a single dam” says Prof. Aleko Miho.

“The HPPs on the Shushica are currently the most imminent threat. Together with the local communities along the river and NGOs, we are determined to stop these projects. For this battle, the data collected will be crucial,” says Dorian Matlija, layer from the organization Res Publica.

The Shushica and Bence, as well as other free-flowing tributaries should become part of the Vjosa National Park, but therefore they need to remain undammed. If just one dam is built, the respective river could no longer be included in the national park. That would also destroy the economic opportunity from eco-tourism for the local communities. 



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Alliance against Kalivaç dam on the Vjosa is growing

++ Vjosa Research Centre in Tepelena inaugurated ++ Scientists refute Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Kalivaç hydropower plant ++ Albanian President speaks out in favour of Vjosa National Park ++ IUCN promises support ++

Tirana/Tepelena, Albania. September 25th, 2020. Today, the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, together with representatives of the Universities of Tirana and Vienna  and the Mayor of Tepelena Tërmet Peçi, inaugurated the Vjosa Research Center at the banks of the river in the small Albanian town of Tepelena. This center will serve scientists and students from Albania and abroad to study this last great wild river in Europe and its tributaries. Great honor was bestowed upon the Viennese Professor Schiemer. Due to his merits for the research and protection of this river, the research center has been named “Vjosa Research Center Fritz Schiemer” at the suggestion of his Albanian colleagues.  

Prof. Schiemer from the University of Vienna, who knew nothing about this tribute and only learned about it during the inauguration ceremony, says: “I am deeply touched. This honour, but especially this new center is yet another incentive for me and my colleagues to protect this unique river and to prevent the looming dam projects.”

Albanian President speaksout in favor of national park and against the hydropower projects

Following the inauguration of the Vjosa Research Center in Tepelena, the scientists embarked on a boat trip on the Vjosa River. On the shore of the river, President Ilir Meta used the opportunity to promote the idea of a Vjosa National Park, instead of damming the river: “I am in favor of a national park. The electricity can be generated differently, mainly by solar and wind, so there is no need to destroy the Vjosa. However, we need to have more dialogue between the different stakeholders, including the governmental institutions, to discuss the future of this remarkable river.”

Kalivaç EIA is a farce

The day before, on September 24th, a roundtable discussion on the future of the Vjosa was held in Tirana at the invitation of the President. Due to the COVID19 situation, only 30 people could participate; next to Albanian and international scientists, ambassadors of several countries were also present. On behalf of over 50 scientists, Prof. Fritz Schiemer and Prof. Aleko Miho presented their evaluation of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for the planned Kalivaç hydropower plant – a large dam project with a dam wall of approx. 50 meters in height, that would destroy the Vjosa in one blow. Unbelievably, the authors of the EIA, commissioned by the Turkish-Albanian dam consortium, had hardly collected any in situ data of their own, but instead almost exclusively used data that Albanian and international scientists had collected over the past years, but drew completely contradictory conclusions from it.

The experts’ conclusion is clear: “The report is strongly biased and clearly falls short of the minimum scientific and legal requirements for such an examination. The whole ESIA report is highly deficient, profound impacts and measures have been poorly assessed or not taken into account at all. And worst of all, the data we have assessed over the last years, has been misused and incorrect conclusions drawn from it.”

“This EIA report is unacceptable. Our Minister for Environment must reject this ESIA and cannot issue the environmental permit on its basis. The Vjosa is of international importance and this EIA is a farce,” says Prof. Aleko Miho of the University of Tirana.

The IUCN also supports the Vjosa National Park
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) – the global authority on protection of nature, recognizes the international importance of Vjosa River. Andrej Sovinc, representing IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, reminded the participants at the roundtable in Tirana that the proclamation of the Vjosa National Park would, in addition to protecting the river, provide income for the local communities living along it. “The Vjosa River will never be known for its hydropower potential, but it is already known as one of the last braided rivers in Europe”, he concluded his presentation.

“The future of the Vjosa will be decided at the planned Kalivaç dam. If we manage to prevent this hydropower project, the chances of establishing Europe’s first Wild River National Park are very high. It is wonderful that the supporters of the national park idea are increasing in numbers,” says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch, who joined the scientists during the events in Albania.

Background information:
  • These events for the protection of the Vjosa were held in light of the upcoming World Rivers Day, on September 27th.
  • Download the scientists Review of the Main Environmental and Social ImpactAssessment (ESIA) for the HPP Kalivaç
  • The Vjosa river in Albania is one of the last intact natural rivers in Europe outside Russia. While the Albanian government wants to build dams on the river – starting with the Kalivaç dam – the alternative vision is to establish Europe’s first Wild River National Park.
  • The campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europeaims to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans from a dam tsunami of about 3,000 planned projects. The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organizations in the Balkan countries. The local Partner in Albania is EcoAlbania. Find more information at
  • This is a joint press release by Riverwatch, EuroNatur and EcoAlbania
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Scientists for Vjosa: scientists speak out videos

The international and Albanian freshwater science community raise their voices to warn of the severe consequences of the proposed dams on the Vjosa (and her tributaries). Listen to the many aspects of concern, including erosion of the coastline, loss of biodiversity, threat of dam break due to earthquake-prone area, loss of economic income and many more. Will the Albanian government listen to science?

“The Vjosa is so unique because it flows freely from one end to the other” Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana explains why the Vjosa is so unique on a European scale: unlike any other river she flows unobstructed by human interference and as such is of great significance for the international community.

“If you build the dam, you will lose the coastline” Freshwater ecologist Prof. Gilles Pinay from the National Research Institute IRSTEA in France discusses one of the most important things we would lose if Albania’s Vjosa is dammed: sediment – and with it, the coast.

“I’m so concerned that we are at the brink of losing the only single wild river in Albania” Prof. Ferdinand Bego from the University of Tirana explains why a dam on the Vjosa would be so catastrophic for the future of riverine ecosystems. How can one repair a broken river if no reference of an intact river system is left to study?

“If you build a hydropower dam, the eel will completely be lost in the Vjosa.” Dr. Paul Meulenbroek from the BOKU University in Vienna/Austria, talks about the European Eel, a critically endangered and protected species that spends part of its life cycle in the Vjosa . It cannot survive in dammed rivers.

“The dams would be strongly affected by the seismic activity” Dr. Klodian Skrame from the Polytechnic University of Tirana warns that building dams in the Vjosa basin – one of the most earthquake-prone areas in Albania – poses a major threat. These geological aspects must be taken into serious consideration.

“All over the Balkans, iconic rivers like the Vjosa are not only symbols of national pride but also very, very important economic engines for the local people” Dr. Steven Weiss from the Karl-Franzens University Graz, Austria, explains that ecotourism, based on the free-flowing Vjosa, can benefit local communities along the river.

“The EU has asked us to protect the Vjosa. This request should be important to Albanian decision makers” In May, the EU will once again discuss whether to open accession talks with Albania. Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana explains why the protection of the Vjosa would send a positive message to the EU and increases Albania’s chances for accession. 

“The wild rivers in the world are now disappearing”

Prof. Futoshi Nakamura from the Hokkaido University in Japan explains why the future of our planet’s lifelines depends on saving the last intact rivers, like the Vjosa.

“Benthic invertebrates are one of the most important groups that would be damaged if the Vjosa River would be dammed”

Prof. Sajmir Beqiraj from the University of Tirana explains why this group is particularly critical to the functioning of the aquatic ecosystem and its biodiversity.

“By the time the company hands over the rights to sell the electricity, there will be no more electricity production, and the government will be left with an environmental disaster to clean up”

Dr. Steven Weiss from the Karl-Franzens University Graz, Austria points out the irony that due to the extremely high sediment load of the Vjosa, the dam reservoir will fill up quickly and no longer produce electricity by the time the concession period of the Turkish company ends. This means that the project has no benefit for Albanian people whatsoever.

“By one singe dam, we interrupt the evolutionary process of migratory species in a way that they are not able to fulfil their life cycles and will die over time”

Prof. Ferdinand Bego from the University of Tirana is concerned about the proposed dams on the Vjosa and explains what would be lost if they are to be built.

“If the Vjosa will be covered by the hydro-power lakes, if dams will be constructed in Vjosa, then the wonderful Vjosa gravels will be lost, the Egyptian Vulture will lose its territory and nature will lose an indispensable ally”,

Dr. Taulant Bino, from Polis University, Tirana explains the importance of the Vjosa habitats for the Egyptian Vulture – globally critically endangered species.

“It’s a fantastic landscape and it’s really something special”,

Dr. Steven Weiss from the Karl-Franzens University Graz, Austria, tells about the spectacular view and exceptional feeling that one can experience while exploring the Vjosa valley.

“No, there is no way, whatever you do, you can do it, but not with me on board.”

Prof. Ferdinand Bego, a conservation biologist from the Tirana University, discusses the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and his refusal to be a part of it. Most of the senior environmental experts in Albania were not a part of this business, because they were aware of the sensitivity of the issue.

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