Two new animal species discovered in the area of projected dam on Vjosa

++ International research team finds 300 animal species in only one week, including a new fish and stonefly species ++ Sediment transport could grind electricity generation of the projected hydropower plant Poçem to a halt within 25 years ++

New discovery: this fish species previously entirely unknown to science was discovered in the area of the projected hydropower plant Poçem. It is yet to be named. © Wolfram Graf
The newly discovered stonefly species carries the name of its beautiful but threatened host: Isoperla vjosae © Wolfram Graf
The Vjosa is the last big wild river in Europe outside Russia. In this section of the river alone, scientists found 132 animal species within just one week. © Gregor Subic

Tirana, Vienna, Radolfzell; September 19, 2017. Earlier this year in April, 25 scientists from 4 countries researched the river section of the Vjosa in the area of the projected hydropower plant Poçem. Today, they are presenting their first findings in Tirana. In only one week, 300 animal species were discovered, among them a fish as well as a stonefly species previously entirely unknown to science. The stonefly species will be named after its host, Isoperla vjosae. The new fish species is yet to be named. Several comparative tests must still be conducted in order to be entirely certain that it is indeed a new fish species. Another 40 species have been recorded for the first time in Albania (find the preliminary report of selected species).

The international research team came to following conclusions:

• The Vjosa is of pan-European importance in regards to biodiversity. It provides habitat for many animal and plant species which have become extremely rare or have disappeared entirely in other European rivers.
• If the hydropower plans on the Vjosa (Poçem and Kalivaç) are being constructed as planned, most of these species are likely to go extinct in consequence of the radically changed conditions.
• First assessments of the sediment transport (gravel and sand) confirm, that the electricity generation of the projected power plant Poçem would basically come to a standstill within 25-30 years since the reservoir will be backfilled entirely with sediments.
• It is imperative that a comprehensive three-year research program is carried out prior to making any decisions about the licensing of hydropower plants on the Vjosa. In addition to flora and fauna, such a study must also include a detailed examination of sediment transport as well as an assessment of impacts on ground water.

According to Professor Fritz Schiemer from the University of Vienna and coordinator of the Vjosa research initiative, this first assessment can only be seen as the beginning of much more thorough research: “What we found in only one week is unbelievable! Our results indicate that a perennial survey of biodiversity and sediment transport is absolutely indispensable”, so Prof. Schiemer.

“The cooperation with colleagues from Austria and Germany is an excellent start for further research on the Vjosa. We want to expand on the international collaboration in order to safe this river. Our government should establish a national park rather than constructing dams”, says Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana.

Dr. Christoph Hauer from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna has conducted profile measurements of the river bed – up to two kilometres in width – for the very first time. “Our assessments confirm an impending lose-lose situation if the hydropower plant Poçem is being constructed. In addition to species extinction, energy generation will be reduced drastically since the massive sediment transport of the Vjosa will fill up the projected reservoir with gravel and sand within only 25-30 years. Additional measurements are imperative and are internationally state-of-the-art”, says Dr. Christoph Hauer.

 

Background Information:
The Vjosa is the last big wild river in Europe outside Russia and is largely unexplored. The Albanian government plans the construction of two big hydropower plants (Poçem und Kalivaç) in the most valuable sections of the river. Between April 23-29, 2017, scientists from Albania, Austria, Germany and Slovenia researched the area around Poçem. Find our press release about the Vjosa Research Week, the Der Spiegel article about the activity (in English!) and the video, published in the Patagonia-Blog “The Cleanest Line”
• Find HERE a preliminary report about the first findings of selected species. The report was recently submitted to the Bern Convention. A more comprehensive publication about the Vjosa Research Week can be expected in 2018.
• In May 2017, the Administrative Court in Tirana ruled in favour of the lawsuit filed by NGOs and affected residents and revoked the licence for the hydropower plant Poçem. The Albanian government has appealed that decision. As an alternative to the construction of hydropower plants, NGOs and residents demand the establishment of a wild river national park. It would be the first of this kind in Europe.
• The protection of the Vjosa is a key goal of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign, which aims to protect the most valuable rivers in the Balkans. The campaign is coordinated by the NGOs Riverwatch and EuroNatur and carried out together with partner organisations in Balkan countries. In Albania, the local partner is EcoAlbania.

Contacts:

Prof. Fritz Schiemer - Universität Wien - friedrich.schiemer@univie.ac.at  +43/69910188845
Prof. Aleko Miho - Universität Tirana - mihoaleko@yahoo.com +35/682707208
Cornelia Wieser - Riverwatch – cornelia.wieser@riverwatch.eu +43/6504544784
Katharina Grund – EuroNatur – katharina.grund(at)euronatur.org  +49 7732 / 92 72 - 10

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