In Albania, about 50% of the population lives in the coastal area. Also, about 80% of the industry and 70% of agricultural farms are concentrated in the lowlands along the Adriatic coast. But the region’s marine resources and ecosystems are at risk and are facing increasing ecological threats and increased pressures from all sectors of the blue economy, including unsustainable management of fish stocks, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and marine litter, unsustainable tourism and climate change.

This national meeting marked the closing of the MPA Networks Interreg project

In this context, the Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania (INCA), partner of the MPA NETWORKS Interreg Project, organised a National Meeting with the theme “Toward a sustainable marine environment”.

The meeting presented and discussed the “Political Recommendations” document issued by the MPA NETWORKS Project, in support of the decision-making processes and the implementation of policies for the effectiveness of the management of MPAs at the local, national, and international levels, as well as the identification of priorities and tools for their integration into national policies. As part of the project activities, INCA has engaged local experts to contextualise political recommendations for the situation in Albania and propose concrete priority actions at the national level. Their findings were presented at the final conference according to key priority policies from the “Political Recommendations” document listed below:

“Fostering collaborative governance and co-management in the Mediterranean Sea”:

The analysis of the situation in Albanian shows that there is some significant progress in establishing a dedicated administration for marine protected areas and formalising cooperation of various institutions within the Management Committee for Protected Areas. However, inter-institutional cooperation is at a low level and there is limited involvement of other stakeholders in the management of marine protected areas. Furthermore, there is limited awareness of law enforcement authorities to support the preservation of marine resources. To address this situation, it is recommended to:

  • Improve and/or develop mechanisms to formalise inter-institutional cooperation and sharing of responsibilities for the management of the marine environment, including law enforcement.
  • Build capacities of relevant institutions and stakeholders on sustainable management issues.
  • Develop and promote models and mechanisms for co-management

“Enhancing the level of high/full protection of the Mediterranean Sea”:

The analysis shows that the level of protection of the marine areas in Albania (4.3%) is still far from global and regional objectives. There is only one marine protected area in the country (Karaburun Sazan MNP) and a number of coastal protected areas extending to the sea, with limited marine conservation activities. Key recommendations include:

  • Extend the number and coverage of marine and coastal protected areas to reach regional and global targets.
  • Improve legal framework to ensure proper authority and competencies for law enforcement in the marine environment.
  • Strengthen capacities (number and skills of surveillance staff) and provide adequate equipment and tools to ensure appropriate surveillance and enforcement of protection regimes.

“Expanding a network-based management of mobile species in the Mediterranean Sea”:

The analysis shows that there are limited activities in the management of mobile species. There are some research efforts in assessing the corridors and feeding/breeding sites for monk seals and sea turtles. Additionally, there have been some activities on education and awareness raising on safe handling of sharks (elasmobranchs) and other species ending up as by-catch on fishers’ nets. Key recommendations include:

  • Improve management of existing and possibly establish new rescue and recovery centres for mobile species
  • Identify and map transition corridors for mobile species at the national level
  • Share data on mobile species at a regional level and contribute to harmonising monitoring protocols.

“Supporting sustainable small-scale fisheries management as a key success factor of the Mediterranean culture of marine stewardship” :

The analysis shows that there is no accurate and reliable data on the size and impact of small-scale fishery in Albania. Most of the small-scale fishing vessels are not properly registered and they do not regularly report on landings and fishing gears used. The recreational fishing activity is not adequately regulated and there is limited enforcement of existing limitations (quotas, gears, timing). There is limited involvement of small-scale fishers into the management of marine resources, including marine protected area management. There are limited capacities and overlapping competencies for law enforcement. There are no “No take zones” established yet. Key recommendations include:

  • Support monitoring and research activities on small-scale fishery to improve knowledge on effort and impact on marine resources
  • Improve infrastructure to support sustainable small-scale fishery (landing sites, storing facilities, marketing, etc.)
  • Build capacities and support coordination and organisation of small-scale fishers
  • Support involvement of small-scale fishers in monitoring and management activities
  • Improve legal framework (clear competencies), build capacities and provide adequate equipment to ensure proper law enforcement of fishing regulations.
  • Improve legal framework to facilitate the development of recreational fishing and fishing-related tourism activities as an income generation opportunity for small-scale fishers.

“Catalysing sustainable financing opportunities for the Mediterranean Sea”:

The analysis shows that the level of financing for marine protected areas management is far beyond needs. The state budget covers only salaries for a limited number of staff and operational costs. International financial flows from various donor projects (GEF, MedFUND, CEPF, AICS) cover most of the monitoring and conservation activities for the marine protected area. The marine protected area has a business plan supporting the implementation of the management plan. However, the lack of an appropriate legal framework does not enable the proper use of incomes generated within the protected area to cover management activities. Key recommendations include:

  • Support research activities on the assessment of ecosystem services and valuation of the natural capital for the marine environment
  • Elaborate/improve legal framework to enable proper collection and use of incomes generated within protected areas.
  • Increase the level of financial support for the management of marine protected areas.
  • Identify and implement innovative financing mechanisms to support the management of marine protected areas.

“Enabling marine resilience in the Mediterranean Sea” :

There are no studies or research on climate change vulnerability for marine areas. There is no national scale mapping of Posidonia oceanica meadows, important for carbon sequestration, as well as important nursery and spawning sites for key species that can be impacted by climate change. There is limited monitoring of climate change parameters at the national level. Key recommendations include:

  • Improve legal framework to better address issues related to climate change and the marine environment
  • Develop and implement an appropriate monitoring plan for climate change-related indicators
  • Develop management strategies for marine protected areas and marine resources according to various climate change scenarios.

“Bolstering nature-based sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean Sea”:

The analysis shows that Albania is working well in developing national strategies for tourism development including marine and nature-based tourism. However, tourism is still mostly based on seasonal models and there is little consideration for climate-smart and carbon-neutral touristic infrastructures as well as circular economy schemes. There is no appropriate eco-labelling and eco-certification process. There is no assessment of the socio-economic impacts of tourism activities within MPAs and no information on cumulative impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems including those from new recreational practices. Key recommendations include:

  • Promote the key role of MPAs in preserving coastal and marine ecosystems while supporting sustainable tourism development.
  • Support in the national tourism policy framework alternative and less seasonal models to mass tourism, seeking more environmental sustainability and social benefit and fostering climate-smart and carbon-neutral touristic infrastructures as well as circular economy schemes.
  • Support the assessment of the socio-economic impacts of tourism activities within MPAs and their surroundings to better understand the reality of cumulative impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems including those from new recreational practices to foster sustainable tourism.
  • Promote and support the implementation of carrying capacity as a flexible tool for adaptive management of the MPAs and their surroundings that complete tourism impact assessment.

Organized as a round table discussion, the meeting aimed to advocate for effective management of the marine environment and for this purpose it discussed the initiatives or activities that are being carried out or are planned to be carried out in Albania by the various institutions and donors to guarantee a sustainable marine environment as part of blue economy development contributing to the good environmental status of the sea, maritime spatial planning and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The main discussions highlighted the national commitments to the implementation of international agreements that contribute to the improvement of maritime governance, sectorial integration and perspectives of sustainable development.