The big kayak tour to save the rivers of the Balkans starts
In Bohinj, Slovenia on April 16, 2016. About 150 kayakers have opened the Balkan River Tour on the Sava River in Slovenia. Led by former Slovenian Olympic athlete Rok Rozman, kayakers from all over Europe will, over the next 35 days, navigate the most stunning and at the same time most threatened rivers of the Balkans. This is the first organization of this size in Europe. With this tour, they are taking a clear stand against the current “tsunami” of dam construction: around 2,700 hydropower plants are slated to be built from Slovenia to Albania.
The starting signal for this tour was given starting at Lake Bohinj in the Triglav National Park, through which the main branch of the Sava River passes. On the lake, kayakers posed next to the message “Save our rivers – stop the dams”. Over the next five weeks, kayakers will paddle 18 different rivers starting in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. Special events are planned in many river segments to support local initiatives in their fight against HPP construction projects.
“This unique activity shows that the Balkan Rivers are something more than just megawatt/hour suppliers. They are “lifelines” that provide recreational value for people and habitats for species. We must protect this European natural heritage from the greed of companies and banks for profit”, says Ulrich Eichelmann (Riverwatch), coordinator of the campaign “Save the blue heart of Europe”.
Most of the projects have not yet been implemented, but the pressure is on. “When I was a child my dream was to win the Olympic medal in river rowing. Now an adult, my main goal is to protect these rivers. I have not received the medal, but I will do everything I can to help protect the rivers in the Balkans. I invite kayakers from all over Europe to join this tour and support us in this effort,” says Rok Rozman, organizer of the Balkan River Tour.
It is no coincidence that the tour starts in the Slovenian part of the Sava. Almost every free-flowing section of this river is threatened by hydropower projects, even within protected areas or sections that harbor populations of threatened species such as the Danube salmon (Hucho hucho). “We cannot ask other – often poor – countries to protect their rivers while we ourselves allow our hydropower lobby to destroy almost every meter of the Sava in Slovenia. We must stop this craze of building dams”, emphasizes Neza Posnjak, coordinator of the campaign “Saving the blue heart of Europe” Slovenia.
The tour will end with the submission of the request for the protection of Vjosa to the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama on May 20. The Vjosa is the last, “wild” river in Europe (outside of Russia), in which hydropower projects are also planned. “We want to prevent the construction of these dams and instead we are doing our best to protect Vjosa along its entire length as a National Park. This would constitute the first National Park of a natural river in all of Europe”, says Tereza Schiller, coordinator of the campaign “Saving the blue heart of Europe”, at the Foundation for Natural Heritage EURONATUR.
According to Martin Šolar, director of WWF Adria, these rivers from the Dinaric Alps to the southern depths of the Balkan Peninsula are the “lifeways” of the region: “We are working on several rivers throughout the Balkans and dams are the most serious problem that these rivers are facing. A hotspot of incredible biodiversity is at risk. For this reason, we are happy to join forces and support this tournament.