"Kune Vaini Lagoon, an Outdoor Laboratory for Biological Diversity Study"

April 25, 2019 | By Mihallaq Qirjo, REC Shqipëri

Wetlands are areas with a high biological diversity which offer the best essentials, such as the maintenance of the atmosphere composition and the main habitat for migratory species. The coastal lagoons support a rich and special biodiversity where we can find different groups of organisms. They act as grounds for the reproduction of marine fish and marine invertebrates and serve as resting areas for many types of migrants birds.

In Albania, the lagoon of Kune Vaini is a wetland system, including lagoons and marine waters, underwater sea, typical coastal forests, Mediterranean shrubs and agricultural lands. Located southwest of Shëngjin city, the Protected Area is 2,300 ha. Kune Vaini Lagoon is a natural-lagoon ecosystem, as well as one of the most important lagoons of the Albanian Adriatic coast. It is the first protected area in Albania, promulgated since 1940. This area is characterized by different habitats integrated into a single ecosystem. The diversity of habitats and their natural characteristics have created the right conditions for the representative species of biodiversity.

The lagoon and the surrounding ecosystem are part of the managed natural reserve, but this lagoon system has been identified as a critical region vulnerable to climate change impacts. Rising sea levels and changes in precipitation intensity have challenged water supply, agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. The need to take appropriate measures is not just a wish, but comes as a vital necessity. Over the past two years, an interesting and innovative tool has been implemented in this lagoon with regard to climate change adaptation. The project "The construction and recovery of the Kune-Vaini lagoon" not only aims to give life to this new approach in our country, but also to increase the capacity in a national and local level to adapt to climate change.

Working under the project in several directions, today we can say that the ecosystem-based approach (EbA) is already a tangible concept from the community. The last year's agreement between the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment and the University of Tirana aims to support the students of the Faculty of Natural Sciences to study this approach and to carry out genuine scientific studies on the applicability of EbA- s in our country. Within this new relationship, a group of 15 students will monitor some important lagoon living components such as the phytoplankton, zooplankton and aquatic plants (macrophytes).

Field monitoring visits are organized every two months, with groups of botanists, zoologists, chemists, course leaders and students. It is very important to train new researchers for the correct application of the relevant EU standards for all selected parameters, either on the ground or in the lab.

The Kune-Vain system is an open-air laboratory for students and young researchers of academic and university institutions of our country. Student groups have visited the Cekë, Zaja and Merxhani lagoons to study not only the biodiversity of the area, but also to assess the dynamics of this fragile lagoon system. Freshwaters flow through the canals and the amount of saline water entering the sea have changed a lot over the years, in some cases adding the salinity in the lagoon and strongly influencing plant and animal species. The presence of the Calinectes sapidus crab population as a kind of alien introduced by the sea has influenced many native species by changing the ecological balance of this ecosystem. Ledi Selgjekaj, a student of the Master of Environmental Biology at the University of Tirana, says that the Faculty of Natural Sciences has often visited the lagoon to count herbaceous birds in it. "In recent years, Kune Vaini has become a very important habitat, but also very attractive for wintering and migrating birds, where we mention species such as Anas acuta, Anastasia (Anas querquedula), Small husk (Aythya nyroca), Çafka (Ardea cinerea), Big White (Ardea alba), Rosa with four eyes (Bucephala clangula) etc, although I have also observed hunting and disturbance cases of bird populations in this lagoon complex. My arrival in the area and the observation of the outdoor populations meets our professional formation as future managers of the natural environment and protected areas,"says Ledi Selgjekaj.

Although this lagoon is one of the first protected areas in Albania, it is not much visited as it does with other lagoons of the Adriatic coast. Not knowing the lagoon well and especially its’ natural values has raised the interest of a group of students from the Faculty of Natural Sciences, a biology branch for enriching Albanian language information about the lagoon and the species living in it. Facilitated by REC Albania and the association of Albanian Wikipedia, an interesting initiative has begun on enriching information in Albanian on Wikipedia about the diversity of life in this lagoon. Wikipedia is the world's largest online encyclopaedia and its content is voluntarily created, which increases the assessment of the work of students engaged in this initiative. As part of the Earth Day, dated April 22, 2019, which this year comes with the theme "To Protect Our Types", students are contributing to the updating of biological diversity information, which will help all those interested to visit the Wikipedia site in Albanian.