An invisible problem that causes irreversible damage to nature: ecological moorings are one of the solutions

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What do tourism and Posidonia have in common? Unfortunately, nothing, because while one flourishes, the other withers. Every summer, we witness the same scenario: the booming nautical tourism destroys the Posidonia seagrass meadows. Although the devastation of this marine plant is influenced by multiple factors, it appears that anchoring (a consequence of nautical tourism development) causes the greatest and most irreversible damage. As the anchor plows the seabed, it uproots and destroys this incredibly beneficial plant.

Known as seagrass, scientists describe it as the lungs of the Mediterranean because Posidonia meadows convert carbon dioxide into oxygen more effectively than forests on land. However, despite its usefulness, human activity over the past few decades has reduced the area of Posidonia meadows in the Mediterranean by more than 30%. This is a significant problem because it takes a whole century for a single meadow to recover.

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The Croatian tourism sector is becoming increasingly aware of this issue. Thus, at its 27th assembly on April 29, 2024, the Assembly of the Split-Dalmatia County adopted the Conclusion on the adoption of the Anchorage Arrangement Plan of the Split-Dalmatia County.

On May 20, a presentation of the Anchorage Arrangement Plan of the Split-Dalmatia County was held at the Mediterranean Institute for Life Research (MedILS). In addition to representatives of the Split-Dalmatia County as the ordering party, the Public Institution for the Management of Protected Areas in the Split-Dalmatia County Sea and Karst as the coordinator, and the company Obala d.o.o. as the plan developer, representatives of the Faculty of Maritime studies at the University of Split, the Association for Nature, Environment, and Sustainable Development Sunce, and maritime domain concessionaires were also present.

Strategic document for the protection of Natura 2000

Anchorage Arrangement Plan of the Split-Dalmatia County provides binding parameters for the development of spatial plans on the level of municipalities and cities and the subsequent issuance of concessions for the economic use of nautical anchoring sites.

– The Anchorage Study and the Anchorage Arrangement Plan (which is based on the study) are, in a way, strategic documents that will allow us to protect our Natura 2000 sites in the most adequate manner for decades to come, – said Domagoj Lažeta, Director of the Public Institution for the Management of Protected Areas in the Split-Dalmatia County of Split and Dalmatia Sea and Karst , in his introductory speech.

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– According to the Maritime Domain and Sea Ports Act that was enacted this year, an anchorage is defined as a part of the marine area designated for the anchoring or mooring of vessels, and it is divided into nautical and marine natural anchorages, – explained Maja Mustapić, a representative of the plan developer Obala d.o.o., noting that the focus of the Plan is on nautical anchorages.

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Ecological moorings

We must keep in mind that 45% of the areas suitable for anchoring, that we covered in the Study, are covered with Posidonia meadows. Therefore, nautical tourists and Posidonia favor the same locations. For this reason, permanent eco-moorings are an excellent solution, – added Jelena Kurtović Mrčelić from the Public Institution for the Management of Protected Areas in the Split-Dalmatia County of Split and Dalmatia Sea and Karst.

These are permanent systems where buoys are installed at each mooring site by drilling through sand and marine sediment into the bedrock. Given the nature of the installation, the impact on marine sediment is short-term and negligible. During the installation and subsequent use of the mooring, the entire mooring system does not come into contact with the plant cover, which is extremely important for the preservation of seagrasses. This is why such an anchoring system is more environmental friendly compared to the installation of concrete blocks.

– All of this is explained in detail in the study. About 60 pages are dedicated solely to ecological mooring systems, – said Kurtović Mrčelić, adding that based on this Plan, the complete documentation for mooring sites on the Pakleni Islands, where nautical tourism is most concentrated, will be developed over the next two years. The activities will be carried out as part of the BIOPRESSADRIA project, co-financed by the European Union, with Sunce as one of the partners.

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Sunce has been monitoring the status of Posidonia meadows for the last 15 years. Initially, we did this within marine national and nature parks, and over the years, we extended our monitoring to many other protected areas, including Natura 2000 sites. The Telašćica Nature Park has the longest-running monitoring and data over the last 15 years. It’s conducted every two years. We have also worked very intensively on the protection of Posidonia meadows in Kornati as part of the SASPAS project, and now we are continuing this work within the already mentioned BIOPRESSADRIA project, – said Matea Špika, senior associate in the Nature Protection Department at Sunce.

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Following the presentation of the Plan, a round table was announced. Danijel Pušić from the Faculty of Maritime Studies at the University of Split and one of the authors of the anchoring study addressed the process.

– We spent about six years on the study, conducting intensive professional and scientific work, and we had to consider many criteria. Some of the most important were the demands of nautical tourists regarding anchorages, business planning, ecological aspects, and so on, – said Pušić briefly.

– What this Plan has brought, which the Study could not, is a binding character. It is now part of the county’s spatial plan, and there are now procedures that must be followed in the process of issuing concessions for the economic use of nautical anchorages. It is no longer a recommendation but an obligation, – added Matea Dorčić, head of the Department for tourism, maritime affairs, and transport of the Split-Dalmatia County.

Kurtović Mrčelić further emphasized that concessionaires now have a legal obligation to implement the Plan and invited them to seek help and support from the Public Institution in establishing ecological moorings.

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Communication campaigns targeted at yachtsmen are needed

Increased field surveillance in nautical tourism is necessary. Kurtović Mrčelić thinks it is good to have a concessionaire on the field because they take care of areas. Ana Marija Jakas, a representative of the concessionaire on Šćedro, agreed, suggesting that the port authority, which is the only entity authorized to issue fines, should be more involved in maintaining order in these areas.

­­– In 2015, we faced situations where party groups on sailboats, with about 120 vessels, would come to our bay, disturbing other guests and damaging Posidonia through free anchoring. I’m glad that we now have organized moorings. Buoys are also organized, employees collect waste, and we provide excellent service to guests… I think this is much better for the local community, – said Jakas.

Furthermore, Špika believes that today, every yachtsman would rather choose buoys than free anchoring because it is a much safer option for them, especially for the many inexperienced ones that come to our coast during the summer. It is also necessary to work on education and spreading information because people sometimes do not even realize they are doing something wrong.

– Since the introduction of the free anchoring ban in the Balearic Islands in Spain, the local authorities first conducted an informative campaign for three years. Their goal was not to issue fines to yachtsmen but to educate them first, and they accepted it very well. Moreover, many larger vessels that sail in Spain and France, where free anchoring regulation already exists, come to the Adriatic during the summer, so their captains are already familiar with the issue of Posidonia meadow protection. It will not be strange to them when our regulation is fully implemented one day, – said Špika.

– Thanks to this Plan, I believe we can achieve a lot and that we will be leaders in Posidonia protection, not only in our country but also in the Mediterranean, – concluded Kurtović Mrčelić.

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