Europe’s Unknown Wild Jewel
The Vjosa River in Albania is one of Europe’s last living wild rivers. Along its entire course of over 270 kilometers it is untamed and free flowing and characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. In some areas the riverbed expands over more than 2 km in width. However, what makes this river really outstanding internationally is the fact, that almost all its tributaries are free-flowing and intact as well, creating a living rivers network that is without par in Europe.
The main source of the Vjosa River is in Greek territory near the village of Vouvoussa (the ancient name of Vjosa). On its first 80 kilometres the river flows through Greece and is named Aoos. In Albania it turns into Vjosa. The meandering lower part opens up into a valley with extensive wetlands, providing habitats for spawning fish, migratory birds and others. Finally, it drains into the sea just north of the Narta lagoon – one of the biggest and ecologically richest lagoons of Albanian and as such designated as Managed Nature Reserve. The Vjosa is draining a total area of 6,700 km² in Albania and Greece and discharges an average of 204 m³/s into the Adriatic Sea.
Ahead of the upcoming Albanian parliamentary elections on April 25, citizens, activists, and conservationists are demanding political support for the establishment of Europe’s first wild river national park to protect the Vjosa, Europe’s largest wild river outside of Russia.
Albanian and international nature conservation groups such as EcoAlbania, Riverwatch, and EuroNatur are calling on the public and political leaders to protect the future of the Vjosa and make this wild river national park a major priority for any winning party, according to a press release by the three organizations and Patagonia.
The designation would protect over 300 km of rivers and streams, home to over 1,100 species, many of which endangered
As part of this initiative, today sees the release of Vjosa Forever, a new short documentary calling on people everywhere to join the fight to preserve the future of the Vjosa.
The six-minute film, created by Patagonia, asks concerned citizens everywhere to show their support for a Vjosa wild river national park and bring international attention to the environmental disaster that could ensue if it remains unprotected.
In September 2020, Albanian politicians publicly announced the establishment of a Vjosa wild river national park, which would protect the entire network of tributaries. However, since then, local citizens and activists have become increasingly alarmed that, behind closed doors, compromises are being made, and, in fact, the river is in imminent danger.
According to the press release, a recent survey shows that 94% of Albanian people are in favor of establishing this wild river national park.
“If successful, this will be Europe’s first wild river national park and unparalleled in Europe in terms of ecological importance and scale. The designation would protect over 300 km of rivers and streams, host to over 1,100 species, many of which are considered threatened,” the organizations said.
The launch of Vjosa Forever follows the 2018 Blue Heart film and campaign, which depicted the fight to protect the wild rivers of the Balkans – the ‘Blue Heart’ of Europe – from 3,400 proposed hydropower plants that would destroy the culture and ecology of this entire region.
Albania has something of precious beauty that is unparalleled in Europe
“Grassroots activism, supported by legal action, have worked to get this historic decision on the table. Now is the time for Albanian politicians to step up. They will be doing something that’s never been done before and protecting this last, pristine river system, forever,” said Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia.
Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch, said that the Vjosa has miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe.
Enri Mato is an architect and photographer born in 1986 in an artist family. His father was a sculptor and his mother was a restorative, who worked in the Louvre Museum. He grew up in Tirana, Albania where he discovered his interest in photography and art at an early age. In 2005 Enri moved to Paris to study Photography and Architecture. He later pursued masters dergree in Urban Design between Geneva and Tirana. He graduated with a research project called Remembrance. Through his thriving business Enri had the opportunity to travel the world to share his vision and experiences with an international audience.