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New Albania airport threatens flamingo refuge, conservationists say

New Albania airport threatens flamingo refuge, conservationists say

Plans to build Albania’s biggest airport could destroy one of Europe’s most spectacular sanctuaries for giant birds, where the noise of trucks and excavators is already scaring away pelicans and flamingos, ornithologists say.

The picturesque Vjose-Narte lagoon in the shadow of Albania’s Thunderbolt Mountains on the Adriatic Sea, is a crucial stop for flocks of birds on their annual migration between Europe and Africa. It was declared a protected nesting and migration area in 2004, and is home to 200 bird species.

The government says a new airport on the lagoon will boost tourism along Albania’s pristine Adriatic coast, and complies with environmental rules.

“We have respected every step, every timeline and every procedure of the Albanian law, whether that is for the public consultations or how it will impact the environment,” said the tourism and environment minister, Mirela Kumbaro.

The main firm building the airport, Swiss-based Mabetex, did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.

Birdwatchers describe this part of Albania as one of the best places in Europe to see flocks of giant pink flamingos take flight.

Mirjan Topi, an ornithologist from the group Birds of Albania, said the lagoon is home on any given day to around 1.5% of the entire global population of majestic Dalmatian pelicans, one of the world’s largest flying birds, which are in danger of extinction.

“If the airport is built, this beauty will be gone.”

He also said that the safety of the aircraft would be a concern, due to the danger of collisions with birds.

According to the International Monetary Fund in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism accounted for 18% of Albania’s economic output and generated one in every 10 jobs. But if the aim is to boost tourism, Arsen Lambro, 28, who runs a fish restaurant near the lagoon, says it would be a mistake to destroy the local grandeur for an airport.

“What will the tourists find here? It is not only the food but it is the area that will bring more tourists.”

The local population are predominantly members of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania. [Reuters/Kathimerini]