Karavasta is the biggest lagoon and wetland system in Albania and among the largest in the Mediterranean.
The lagoon is an enclosed brackish water body connected to the sea by three artificially maintained channels. The water body is surrounded by drained wetlands and the protected area as a whole lies between two rivers: Shkumbin in the north and Seman in the south; the rivers are not directly connected with the lagoon body. Karavasta is the first and so far only Albanian area that has been designated as site of international importance (Ramsar Convention). Divjaka National Reserve is a pine forest situated in the northern part, between the lagoon and river Shkumbin. Karavasta is a great place for the adventurous visitor.
Location: Albania, Lushnja district.
Size: 20 000 hectares (3.6% sandy littoral belt; 6% pine forest (Divjaka); 29.4% lagoon and salt marsh ; 49% agricultural land and 12% hilly land). The National Reserve of Divjaka is 700 ha.
Manager & owner: The state-owned area is managed jointly by the local branches of the General Directorate of Forestry and the General Directorate of Fisheries (both part of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture).
Actuality: The natural values of the area are under severe pressure by illegal activities by local people (fishing, agricultural practices), pollution, siltation and even by visitors. A new management plan is being developed.
Karavasta lagoon started its formation four centuries ago and its present contours were reached by the beginning of the 19th century. The formation of neighbouring small outer lagoons (godullas) is more recent; it started to form between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and is still dynamic.
Consequently, the area is mainly composed of Quaternary sandy and clay deposits. The western slopes of the Divjaka hills are formed by aleurites, sands and conglomerates of the Pliocene period. The central part of Karavasta lagoon is characterised by a slimy layer that in the peripheral zone is bordered by peat, sand, sub-sand and sub-clay. This area is poor in underground water. The shoreline of the area has continuously changed due to accumulation and alluvium of Seman and Shkumbin rivers and the swell of the Adriatic Sea. The sand spit of Divjaka (meaning 'sandy bar') has gradually separate the lagoon from the sea.
During the last decades the Albanian environment suffered in general terms from hunting, pollution, agricultural practices, and drainage. In the 1960's most Albanian areas were drained for agricultural purposes. Also the metallurgical industry in Elbasani town began to use the Shkumbin river for discharges. As a result the total amount of river water was reduced by 50%, causing fish and pelican to decrease. This was of course a major threat to the environment.
Because of the speed of development, the government had no sight or control over the impact. After a while the impact was recognised and agencies and other organisations began to develop several plans. The result is that hunting nor grazing is anymore allowed. Also strict regulation on pollution and agriculture exist. The site is also made more attractive to eco-tourism, through lodges in the woods and a rest camp.
Nature & Landscape
Sea & Beach
Divjaka Beach, ca. 12 km long, is one of the best preserved natural beauties of Albania. The beaches are mainly used by local residents and day visitors from the town of Lushnja or other tourists. Unfortunately, the Adriatic Sea is a source of tremendous quantities of human waste and litter.
Dunes are situated in the north of the area, next to the woods and along the sandy littoral belt. The dune system is 15 km long and on average 50 m wide. The sand dunes are not well developed, their altitude varies from 1 to 2.5 m. A zone of up to 30 m of the sandy belt is completely bare and local people call it the "dead ground".
The pine forest of Divjaka covers ca. 1100 ha, 700 ha of which is National Reserve (established in 1966). In the east the total area is bordered by agricultural lands and the Karavasta lagoon and in the west by the sandy littoral belt. The ecosystem within the forest is very diverse.
Wooded meadows and juniper fields are part of the archipelago's traditional landscape, the heritage of hundreds of years of settlement and cattle raising.
Flora & Fauna
The area is extremely rich. 29 Species of amphibians and reptiles occur (including Loggerhead sea turtle) and 25 species of mammals including Otter, Weasel, White-toothed shrew, Wood mouse, Roe deer and Red fox.
In total 228 species of birds have been counted. Especially water birds make Karavasta an area of international importance. Among the birds are: Dalmatian pelican, Great white egret, Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler, Oystercatcher, Pipit, Fan tailed warbler, Avocet, Nightingale, Blackbird, various warblers, Goshawk, Black kite, Buzzard, Hobby, White tailed eagle, Stone curlew, Crested lark, Skylark. Waders include Lapwing, Ruff, Redshank, Sandpiper and various plovers.
Karavasta is currently managed by seven rangers, but without specialised wetland management training or equipment. Future strategies include improved planning and management of the lagoon to both protect the ecosystem and its biodiversity (especially the pelicans) and to derive economic benefits from tourism for local communities. A management plan for the site has been prepared with EU-support. However, management is still in development. When good general management plans exist, also nature management can be developed.
The area is under severe threat from hunting, pollution, agricultural practices and siltation. The pelicans are specifically under pressure from disturbance by visitors and fishermen, and from damage to eggs, nests and young from as yet, unidentified agents. Many of the potential industrial sources of pollution, i.e. factories, are closed or operating at a fraction of normal capacity. Waste and litter is a problem along the beaches, which also undergo vehicular traffic. Tree-cutting has risen due to increased construction activities, as have overgrazing and cutting of fuel-wood by local people. There has always been a chronic shortage of energy resources for domestic use, and the local population has traditionally used wood fires for cooking and heating.
Without proper management the lagoon will again suffer from pollution. This will then jeopardise thousands of birds and in the end the lagoon itself. This importance is recognised both by national and international agencies and by NGO's such as the EUCC.
The designation of the lagoon as a Ramsar site is a contribution to its maintenance. The European Commission assists the Albanian Committee for Environmental Protection in the planning and implementation of the management of the area and its water catchment basin.
In the area graves have been discovered from the Bronze Age (city of Germenji), from the Iron Age and from the Middle Ages.
Near the area major archaeological sites exist. The most important one is Apolonia. Next to this site Kalaja e Boshtoves is situated in the old Shkumbin river bed, and also the remains of the old Roman road Egnatia can be explored (village of Sultozaj). Worth visiting are also Ardenica village, Libofsha village, Karavasat village and Pojani village.
ZDROJ: The Coastal Guide to Europe, kráceno