Albania: new airport threatens lagoon ecology

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 Albania: new airport threatens lagoon ecology

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A multimillion-euro new international airport near the Albanian coastal city of Vlora will provide hundreds of jobs for local residents. But environmentalists warn it could cause irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystems of protected lagoons that are home to flamingos , pelicans and millions of other migratory birds.

Albania's new international airport worth 104 million euros ($125 million) — third in the country — is currently under construction dangerously close to the Narta lagoon, about 10 kilometers north of the city of Vlore. The airport is expected to start operating in 2025. It will have a 3.2 km runway and is expected to serve up to 2 million passengers a year.

Construction machinery and workers from the Swiss company Mabco Constructions are currently busy building the runway. lane, as well as the road connecting the airport to the highway.

Residents of a nearby village of 1,000 see the airport as a chance to get a job and an opportunity for a better life.

But Aleksander Treis of the Environmental Protection and Conservation Organization in Albania (PPNEA) says the airport poses a serious threat to the Narta lagoon and the Karavasta lagoon to the north, and environmentalists have launched legal proceedings to stop construction.

Millions of migratory birds use the lagoons as rest stops on the Adriatic Flyway, a route that takes birds from central and northern Europe to Africa. Up to 3,000 flamingos and pelicans visit the lagoons each year.

Niko Dumani from the NGO “Preservation and Protection of the Environment of Vlora” accuses the government of changing a pre-approved plan defining the protected area to include part of the lagoon in airport plans.

Annette Spangenberg of German conservation group EuroNatur said the Narta lagoon is part of an ecological network of protected areas aimed at long-term survival of bird species and their habitats.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Environment says it has consulted with local residents and experts. The new airport will create at least 1,500 jobs. The ministry said the site was chosen “as the most favorable alternative” for the airport.

But last year's European Union report on Albania noted that work on the airport began in December 2021 “in contravention of national laws and international conventions for the protection of biodiversity that have already been ratified.”< br />
Environmentalists also fear that birds could threaten flight safety.

At its last meeting in December last year, the Berne Convention Standing Committee called on the Albanian government to “suspend construction of the airport because of its clear non-compliance with national and international laws.”

The ministry said “a number of protective measures will be applied.”

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