An aerial view of the Vjosa River near the city of Permet taken on March 14, 2023. Photo Credit: Adnan Beci / AFP via Getty Images

Environment Albania26. March 2023

A First in Conservation: a Whole River Becomes a National Park

Albania is home to one of Europe’s largest undammed rivers, and the Vjosa River has been designated a national park, thus addressing pollution, waste management, and deforestation and protecting many species that call the river home.

“It establishes, for the first time, a conservation concept where an entire river system is protected and not just individual sections of a river,” states Ulrich Eichelmann, head of the Austria-based advocacy organization RiverWatch.

Both Vjosa River and its tributaries will be preserved through the creation of the 13-hectare park expected to be operational by 2024. In Europe, out of the million barriers existing along the continent’s rivers, 150,000 don’t serve any economic purpose. Therefore, a growing movement urges the restoration of fragmented rivers, and a record number of dams have been removed from European rivers in 2021, including 108 in Spain alone. More than 1,100 animal species – including 13 considered globally threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – call the Vjosa River home. An initial $80 million will be invested to stop wastewater from being poured into the river.

Smithsonian Magazine

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