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News 21 Jul 16

Croatia Urged to Heed UNESCO's Plitvice Threat

Experts and activists say that UNESCO’s warning, about removing Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes from its heritage list, should be 'taken seriously'.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Plitvice Lakes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons /Tomnie

UNESCO’s warning about the future status of Croatia’s national park, the Plitvice Lakes - due to the massive number of visitors and extensive construction - should “sound an alarm” with the authorities, an environmental activist told BIRN.

Vjeran Pirsic, an environmental activist from the NGO Eko Kvarner, told BIRN that UNESCO’s warning, that it might remove the park from its world heritage list, should “be taken seriously within the government and by politicians in general.

"The fact that UNESCO warned about removing the park from the list, based on the information they have, points to the fact that the problem has already grown out of proportion and has crossed the ‘tipping point’,” he saiid, referring to the number of visitors, recent construction work and sanitary infrastructure as well.

The acting director of the park, Andjelko Novosel, again warned on Tuesday that UNESCO is considering removing the park from the list and has given Croatia until February 2017 to undertake corrective measures.

“Croatia is being asked to put a moratorium on construction. It asks Croatia to involve the public institution [of the park] in the process of giving permits for facilities in the Plitvice National Park and [for Croatia] to develop a strategic environmental impact assessment for the current regional plan,” Novosel told news portal Index.

Pirsic said that when the park first received over one million visitors in a year, in 2011, he had asked whether “anyone has calculated if the park can receive such a number of people”.

He further explained that most countries limit visitor numbers to national parks based on extensive research and feasibility studies.

He also doubted, however, whether removing the park from UNESCO’s list would be taken that seriously, since it “won’t have any effect on visitors, who will come to the park regardless of it being on a list or not”.

Plitvice lakes, located in the region of Lika, connecting the Croatia’s continental and coastal regions, has been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1979 and is one of eight Croatia’s localities on the list.

“Plitvice is faced with a number, in fact, two, key problems; excessive visits and the excessive construction, about which we are now warned by UNESCO on its official website,” Novosel told the private RTL TV station last week.

He recalled that UNESCO suggested back in 1998 that Croatia drafts an action plan for managing the visitors, but added that this was not done.

The Environmental and Nature Protection Minister in the now fallen government, Slaven Dobrovic, said on Wednesday that while the media is mostly interested in stories of visitors taking selfies at dangerous spots, the park is “seriously threatened in the long term by permanent and irreversible devastation and by removal from the UNESCO [list] if the negative trends continue”.

He concluded that the devastation of the park was “a reflection of the state of consciousness of the society in which we live”.

Mihael Zmajlovic, a minister in the previous centre-left government, said on Wednesday part of the blame lies with the current director, who has not conducted work on managing visitors and on helping the government pass an action plan.

Zmajlovic said he had started a project on conducting feasibility studies for managing visitors to all national parks, but that “this government [the outgoing centre-right one] had stopped that project”.

Around 1.3 million visitors visit the park annually and around 15,000 arrive a day in the peak season in July and August.

The park was founded in 1949 on the area of 296 square kilometres and is known for its natural dams that have created a series of lakes, caves and waterfalls.

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