Andrea Ghiurghi is the project manager of the project IUCN has recently launched in Albania with the support from the Italian government.
Tell us about your professional development and experience
I have developed my career during several years of study and work in conservation projects in sub-Saharan Africa. From the very beginning I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do in the field of conservation: understanding the deeper meaning of life and contributing to preserve the beauty of nature. At the end of each consultancy, study or mission in the field, I always ask myself: what have I achieved for the conservation? Unfortunately, too often the answer is very little. This project in Albania gives me the opportunity of doing something tangible for the nature conservation in the country and I am happy I have the opportunity to work with IUCN.
What is your connection to nature?
I am, in first place, a nature lover. I feel the connection between the natural word and the human society. I believe that us, human beings, are one with the rest of the word. In our culture many perceive themselves as separated from other creatures and from the universe. And too often we do not realize that this separation is just a vision that we, people of the “western” countries, choose to have and which is linked to our culture and this particular historical time. We forget that this is just a way of representing our reality, but not the reality.
What are the current challenges Albania is facing in terms of nature protection?
The government of Albania’s Programme on Environmental Protection and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources states as one of its priorities the doubling of the area coverage of protected areas: this objective was in fact already achieved between 2005 and 2009 when Albania significantly increased its protected areas network, passing from 5.8 % to 12.57 % of the total land area of the country. Nevertheless the second highest priority is to guarantee not only the formal protection of these areas but also their further development, through sound planning and management practices, including the strengthening of their income-generating potential without compromising their preservation.
How can IUCN support the country?
In the broader context, our objective is to help the Albanian government achieve higher capacity of planning and management of protected areas. Other real challenge is to show local administrations and stakeholders that protected areas don’t imply loss of opportunities, in terms of reduced land access and use of natural resources. We need to showcase that the protection status can represent a great opportunity for the sustainable development of the area. A good example could become the area of Librazhd, where employment rates are very low, pressure on natural resources is high and the diversification of the economic activities quite limited.
What do we hope to achieve with the project?
The project is first of all a capacity building project. It plans to address all phases of the protected area planning process, from the preparation of the management plan to its implementation. We expect that at the end of the project the Ministry’s staff responsible for planning and management of protected areas in Albania will replicate the experience acquired to other areas of the country and that the innovative approach and standards introduced by the Italian Cooperation and IUCN will become national standards. I would also expect that people, possibly the youngest generations, would start perceiving the natural environment differently.
IUCN’s project is focusing on two sites in Albania: Velipoje Protected Landscape and Shebenik-Jablanica National Park. Why were these sites chosen?
The project will focus on two sites that can provide vast ecosystem services for their populations. In the Shebenik-Jabllanicë region many watercourses originate. The preservation of the forest ecosystem and the vegetation cover is essential to guarantee the quality and provision of water that is used by thousands of people downstream. Similarly the protection of Velipojë Protected Landscape will ensure the conservation of valuable wetland, lagoon, and costal dune habitats that play a crucial role in preventing coastal erosion, marine salt water intrusion and in providing protection of nearby urban, rural and agricultural areas. Both protected areas are home to several endemic plants and animals, i.e. species that are found only in Albania. Finally, both Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park and Velipojë Protected Landscape border with FYR of Macedonia and Montenegro respectively. The stakeholders’ consultation process which will be put in place by the project will contribute to the dialogue on biodiversity conservation between Albania and these two countries, thus leading to a broader systemic approach to conservation.
Interview by Aleksandra Nesic, Operations Officer, IUCN SEE.