We are continuing our Q&A with the experts from Montenegro interviews by talking to Vuk Iković – a biologist and activist from the Montenegrin Ecologists Society. With years of experience in biodiversity monitoring and wildlife conservation, Vuk is one of the most prominent biodiversity experts in Montenegro. Although Montenegro is touted as one of the most forested and environmentally conserved countries in the Balkans, illegal logging, poaching, irrational hydropower projects, as well as sand and stone extraction are threatening to change this status. Vuk reveals more about the effects of these activities and the efforts of Montenegrin conservationists to preserve the rich natural life of this beautiful mountainous gem of the Balkans.
1.We’ve heard a lot about biodiversity loss in Montenegro over the last couple of decades, but little about the specific consequences for ecosystems, the economy, and the quality of life. Can you tell us the primary outcomes of biodiversity loss in Montenegro and how they affect Montenegrin citizens?
On Morača river some 30 years ago, we could fish about a kilogram of the trout fish in half an hour. Today, the same number can be achieved in half a year, if we are lucky. Accordingly, 30 years ago, we could’ve had free lunch thanks to the Morača river biodiversity, which is not the case today.
In the present, due to the self-possessed sand and gravel extraction from this river, the water levels of the primary water source supplying Montenegrin coastal area with drinking water has significantly decreased.
At the same time, in the north of Montenegro, river and forest ecosystems disappear because of small hydropower plants construction and deforestation. Consequently, locals of this area lose their access to water since the aforementioned causes dry out surrounding streams and river beds. This poses difficulties for agriculture maintenance. Deforestation due to fires or cutting down forests changes biological and landscape characteristics, so the locals cannot collect forest fruits or develop local tourism.
2. What are the most significant threats to biodiversity and the biggest obstacles to environmental conservation in Montenegro?
The biggest threats are fires, unsustainable urbanisation, illegal cutting down of forests, poaching. This is caused by the oblivion towards the potentials of conserved nature and desire for making a quick profit, as well as a bad material/ economic status of locals. The common opinion is that profit will be expeditiously acquired if we cut down and export all the trees, but if we, for example, started developing medical tourism, the investment would take longer to pay off, but the natural resources would be preserved.
3. What is the current number of protected areas in Montenegro? Is their number growing or decreasing?
In Montenegro, about 60 areas are currently under protection, and their number is growing. Unfortunately, the areal destruction is present in national parks and natural monuments as well. Uncontrolled deforestation of whole forests, small hydropower plants, intensive urbanisation, wastewater discharge, or sand extraction from riverbeds can all be detected in these localities.
4. How active is your country in international negotiations, i.e., the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and what is the current situation with national action plans and their implementation?
Montenegro is a signatory of all conventions that refer to flora and fauna protection, but this, unfortunately, doesn’t oblige it to start applying wise decisions that will recover animal status and therefore human health as well. In fact, passive protection is present, while active protection is most often missing.
5. Solving these serious problems requires awareness and action of the entire community, so how can Montenegrin citizens get involved and contribute to biodiversity conservation?
Each citizen can replace hundreds of plastic bags with reusable ones and spare fish and other species from plastic and habitat disappearance.
Let’s walk more and use bikes more frequently. Let’s produce our small gardens without using fuels, and let’s buy food from small, local suppliers.
Most of us can plant at least one autochthon tree each year. We will thus aid in creating more beautiful villages, streets, cities, cleaner air, more bees, and better quality food.
Let’s learn about the life of plants and animals, which will help us understand our own nature as well.
6. Can you tell us about some projects, initiatives, or discoveries that have moved biodiversity conservation forward in Montenegro in the previous decade?
We have brought about the initiative to recover the forests of the Skadar Pedunculate oak. This oak once formed spacious forests around the Skadar lake, Zeta and Bojana rivers. Today, thanks to the collected acorns, locals from Danilovgrad and Podgorica have the opportunity to grow small oaks that we will collectively plant along the river Zeta when the time for it comes.
We examine old trees and observe the writings of time in them, and this will help us understand how to adapt to present and future weather – climate changes.
We analyse fish fauna from the Zeta river in order to advance their international protection status.
We are working on establishing a European ecological network NATURA 2000, and thus we promote biodiversity and accelerate nature protection in Montenegro.
We are organizing educational camps for pupils where we teach them how to live in harmony with nature. We are listening to nature and learning its language to transfer not only knowledge but also our experiences to the pupils.