The island of Sazan can be seen from the quay where Tara is docked, at Vlora, Albania. Sazan is the center of a preservation project uniting French and Albanian environmental agencies. This collaboration was officially signed on the deck of the schooner during a 3-day stopover in Vlora.
During 10 years of expeditions on the high seas, Tara has been alternately a platform for scientific research, a place for seminars and policy discussions, and a vehicle for raising public awareness about the oceans. During our stopover in Vlora, Albania, for a few hours the schooner became a highly symbolic site for the official signing of an important contract, establishing a common conservation policy between the French and Albanian Coastal Protection Agencies. At the center of the agreement is Sazan, the largest island of Albania, facing the bay of Vlora. It is essential to preserve this rich natural area in a country where political strife has long deterred ecological awareness.
In 2010, the coastline around the island was declared the Karaburun/Sazan Marine Protected Area — Albania’s first and only MPA. This initiative prompted the French Coastal Protection Agency to begin a collaboration with their local counterparts on issues concerning the island. “We had already worked (until 2006) with the Albanian groups, including conservation policies on lagoons,” recalls Céline Damery, Policy Officer at the European and International Department for Coastal Protection, which manages the Albanian case. “We returned here in 2011, taking advantage of the dynamic that came with the creation of the MPA to provide our institutional and technical assistance, and support them in the implementation of a policy for coastal management.”
In 2012 and 2013, the French Coastal Protection Agency launched its PIM initiative (“Petites Iles Méditerranéennes) which included studies of the biodiversity of Sazan. Surveys quickly revealed the natural wealth of the island, including some 300 species of flora, 40 bird species and 10 new insect species unknown until now in Albania This rich inventory, followed by an ecological evaluation, and an assessment of land-based pollution, resulted in a management plan for the island. Until now, Sazan has been only partially affected by the newly established MPA. “The waters surrounding the island are part of the MPA, but the land area is owned by the Defense Ministry, and presently has no protection status,” explains Céline Damery. “We want to work on this project, because it can be an exemplary site for Albania, with integrated management of land and sea.”
Since the beginning of this year, French and Albanian agencies have been working to establish a Protected Land Area. This collaboration became official with the signature of the convention aboard Tara, in the presence of cameras and local politicians. “This is a new stage in cooperation with the Albanian authorities in terms of exchange of know-how and sharing experience on issues of coastal management,” exclaimed the French project manager. The whole Tara team was proud to host this signature. It was also an opportunity to highlight this kind of local initiative so that our scientific mission in the Mediterranean becomes a relay for the positive actions we encounter along our route.