Only a few dozen rare Dalmatian pelicans remain in the Karavasta lagoon, down from hundreds in the 1980s, as hunting and wildcat development take their toll.

The bridge that connects that seaside village of Divjaka with the Karavasta lagoon is barely passable. The dredge that helps deepen the canal between the lagoon and the sea looks as if it has not seen much action for a long time.

For as long as anyone can remember, Dalmatian pelicans have nested here on one of the lagoon’s low-lying islands, which conservationists and locals call Pelican Islands.

Under Albania’s Communist regime, when the area was a used as labor camp for political prisoners, hundreds of pelicans nested on the island, undisturbed.

“Under the regime, armed soldiers protected the area and the ecosystem for pelicans to nest in Karavasta was excellent.”

“Not only was the lagoon itself a paradise for the pelicans, the surrounding area was, too.”

However, since the regime collapsed, illegal hunting, increased pollution and fishing activity in the lagoon have reduced the population of Dalmatian pelicans to only a few dozen.

Their steep decline raises fears that the rare species could be heading towards extinction in Albania. The Dalmatian pelican is a large member of the pelican family with a breeding range that stretches from the southeastern corner of Europe to India and China. The birds nest in swamps and shallow lakes.

Measuring between 160 and 193cm in size and with a wingspan of more than three meters, it is one of the largest birds in the world.

Karavasta is the biggest lagoon in Albania and one of the largest in the Mediterranean, covering 43.5km square. The lagoon is separated from the Adriatic Sea by a large strip of sand.

As part of the Divjake-Karavasta National Park, the lagoon is an important ecosystem, protected by the Ramsar convention on wetlands. It is home to over 200 species of birds, including rare eagles and falcons. This lagoon is not only a natural treasure but also an economic asset, which we should protect.

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