On June 9 and 10, 2022, the “Conference on Reducing the Impact of Anchoring on Seagrasses” was held in Split, Croatia as the final event of the EU Interreg Italy-Croatia SASPAS project – “Safe Anchoring and Seagrass Protection in the Adriatic Sea”.
The Conference brought together numerous experts, representatives of Croatian and Italian institutions related to nature protection and nautical tourism issues. The participants discussed the challenges and solutions for the development of sustainable nautical tourism in the light of reducing its impact on one of the most important and endangered marine habitats – seagrasses.
Sustainable tourism is the watchword of most development strategies, however, the current way of developing tourism in the Adriatic indicates a different practice.
If Croatia really wants to be a destination based on natural beauty, which protects its resources, it is necessary to think more concretely about management models that will really lead to sustainability.
The Croatian charter fleet is among the largest in the world, and the number of vessels staying in the Adriatic during the tourist season already significantly exceeds the existing berth capacities. The construction of new moorings leads to further devastation of natural coasts, while free anchoring leads to the destruction of marine habitats.
More strategic approach to nautical tourism development while limiting the number of vessels, increasing the quality of service, and investing more in ecological infrastructure and nature protection are necessary prerequisites for sustainability.
Below we present the recommendations resulting from the Conference.
Seagrasses distribution maps are the basis for high-quality spatial planning, informing boaters and monitoring. It is necessary to carry out detailed mapping of the seagrasses distribution and create maps that will become official and legally binding. Creating such maps for the entire Adriatic is an extremely long and complex process. These habitats are under intense pressure, so we cannot postpone the implementation of active measures to protect them until official maps are made. Maps of marine habitats have already been created for individual, smaller areas, and they need to be digitized and made easily accessible to the public for the purpose of informing boaters. In communication with sailors, online applications are the most effective tool, especially Navionics since they are their daily tools for trip planning and navigation. All available seagrass meadow maps should be integrated into these and similar nautical charts.
It is necessary to establish and regularly monitor the state of seagrasses at the Adriatic level and at the level of localities that are most affected by anchoring. In addition to the condition of the habitat itself, it is necessary to monitor the level of impact, that is, the number of boats and the intensity of anchoring in certain localities. It is important to establish systems for the exchange of these information between localities and their unification at the national level for the purpose of reporting to the EU, adoption of protection measures and adaptive management.
ANCHORAGE STUDIES AND STRATEGIC DOCUMENTS
Studies of anchorages being done at the level of larger localities and counties are a good tool for integration of the knowledge from field research into future planning of the development and organization of nautical tourism. An example of such studies is the Split-Dalmatia County Anchorages Studyand the Organization and Development of Sustainable Nautical Tourism in Nature Park Lastovo Islands.
 Javna ustanova za upravljanje zaštićenim dijelovima prirode na području Splitsko-dalmatinske županije “More i krš” (2019). Studija zaštite podmorja ekološke mreže Natura 2000 na sidrištima Splitsko-dalmatinske županije. I.faza., pp. 61.
Javna ustanova za upravljanje zaštićenim dijelovima prirode na području Splitsko-dalmatinske županije “More i krš” (2019). Studija zaštite podmorja ekološke mreže Natura 2000 na sidrištima Splitsko-dalmatinske županije. II.faza., pp. 196.
Javna ustanova za upravljanje zaštićenim dijelovima prirode na području Splitsko-dalmatinske županije “More i krš” (2021). Studija zaštite podmorja ekološke mreže Natura 2000 na sidrištima Splitsko-dalmatinske županije. III.faza., pp. 29.
 Font Gelabert, T., Rajković, Ž. & Jakl, Z. 2013. Organization and Development of Sustainable Nautical Tourism in Nature Park Lastovo Islands, Croatia, Sunce.
These studies have already covered a number of organizational and technical issues and proposed solutions related to the organization of anchoring with minimal impact on the environment. The same can be easily copied to other areas. Provisions from these studies need to be integrated into strategic documents and spatial plans making them legally binding in this way, especially provisions related to spatial coverage of anchorages, technological solutions, nature protection measures and free anchoring prohibition in places with organized anchorages with infrastructure (anchoring buoys). In the preparation of such studies and development planning, the cooperation and joint thinking of experts and representatives of the maritime, nature protection and private nautical sector is extremely important.
Today, most sailors have insufficient experience in mooring and anchoring and want the possibility of mooring on the buoys. For this they are ready to allocate additional funds due to the security anchoring buoys provide. They also want accompanying services such as waste disposal and help with mooring to buoys. There are currently very few anchorage sites with infrastructure in the Adriatic, and the prices for mooring in marinas are among the highest in the Mediterranean.
The development of a small infrastructure of ecological anchorages that have a minimal impact on the landscape and marine habitats should be an important part of the nautical infrastructure development strategy because of the marine habitats’ protection, but also to ensure the safety of boaters.
It is necessary to exchange information and experiences on the most effective technological solutions in relation to the types of seabed, sea currents and winds, in order to apply the most effective and safest solutions and build trust in ecological anchorages among future concessionaires and sailors. Current technological solutions for mooring boats to buoys refer mainly to ships up to 16 m in length, but it is necessary to find different solutions to reduce the impact of the anchoring of larger boats. One of the solutions would be to direct these boats to anchor outside the area of seagrasses, for example on sedimentary bottoms where meadows are not present or at greater depths then the lower edge of the distribution of these meadows, i.e. over 30 m deep. Directing ships to these areas is an alternative to new placement of anchorages because the ultimate goal should by no means be to fill up all natural bays with anchoring buoys.
CONCESSIONS FOR ECOLOGICAL ANCHORAGE
The current procedures for awarding concessions for anchorages are extremely complex and time-consuming. There are often different interpretations of the process between different county and local government unit, and even within the same county. It is necessary to standardize the approach and amounts of concession fees, harmonize, simplify, and clarify these procedures to speed them up, ensure their transparency, and ultimately reduce costs. This is a necessary step to enable the financing of such anchorages through projects and similar donations, and to avoid situations of missed financing opportunities due to complexity and needed time. Procedures need to be simplified, especially for protected areas and Natura 2000 sites in which seagrass meadows are target habitat type for protection.
In situations where concessions are issued to public institutions for the management of protected areas, it is necessary to enable obtaining them at preferential prices. These are the large investments for which public institutions, non-profit by nature, do not have enough available funds. The mechanism for issuing an approval for the special maritime use without a tender goes through a government decision, but currently exists only for national parks, strict or special reserves. This possibility should be extended to other categories of protected areas.
Posidonia seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) is a strictly protected species. Pursuant to Art. 153 of the Croatian Nature Protection Act, it is forbidden to deliberately catch, kill and harass strictly protected species, as well as deliberately destroy and remove their nests, brood, and breeding areas. It is also forbidden to intentionally pick, cut, dig, collect or destroy individuals of strictly protected plants, mushrooms, lichens and algae from nature in their natural range. Prescribed fines for natural persons range from HRK 7,000.00 to HRK 30,000.00, or from HRK 25,000.00 to HRK 200,000.00 for legal entities, depending on the severity of the violation. The Nature Protection Act also prohibits anchoring outside the places designated for this purpose by the spatial plan or other act of the state body responsible for navigation. However, in practice, these provisions are not implemented since it is difficult to prove a violation of the law, along with the limited jurisdiction of rangers, especially in the Natura 2000 sites, the limited capacities of competent authorities for supervision, as well as the lack of awareness of the need for effective implementation of this part of Croatian legislation. Also, it is often the case that the places designated as official anchorages are also the places where Posidonia meadows are located. An aggravating factor is also the lack of publicly available and legally binding maps of the distribution of Posidonia meadows. The cooperation of the nature protection, maritime and spatial planning sectors is necessary to enable more effective protection of Posidonia meadows.
Although, according to the Nature Protection Act, public institutions for the management of protected areas are responsible for the management of all protected areas and Natura 2000 sites, including those at sea, they are in fact excluded from the management of maritime public domain, in accordance with other valid laws of the Republic of Croatia. Furthermore, they are also excluded from the collection of funds for nature protection from the activities performed on the maritime domain. In procedures for awarding concessions on maritime public domain for protected areas and Natura 2000 sites, it is necessary to ensure the integration and implementation of nature protection measures and the formal inclusion of public institutions responsible for managing protected areas and ecological network areas in these procedures. Rangers of protected areas management institutions do not have the authority to control anchoring in the Natura 2000 sites (outside national level protected areas), but if we want to preserve the areas where Posidonia meadows are the target habitat, changes to this part of the legislation are necessary. Concessionaires also do not have effective tools to control free anchoring in and around the concession fields of regulated anchorages.
In addition to legislative framework changes and better spatial planning, in the future it will be necessary to provide additional investments to strengthen the capacity of institutions involved in the system of monitoring and processing illegal actions at sea, such as rangers, harbour authorities, maritime police, inspection. Capacity building will be necessary in the number of employees, their equipment, education, and mutual networking. Overlapping jurisdictions will require cooperation and joint actions on the ground. Due to the extremely indented coast and the large number of boaters, it is necessary to think about the introduction of new surveillance technologies, as well as their admissibility in court proceedings.
INFORMATION AND EDUCATION
Boaters are mostly people who love the sea and want to preserve it. A significant part of the problem lies in the fact that boaters are not well informed on the importance and threat of seagrasses, negative impact of anchoring, and how to reduce it. Nautical tourism also has a negative impact on the marine ecosystem through generation of marine litter and wastewater discharges. It is necessary to strengthen the awareness of boaters regarding these problems, and to inform them about the solutions.
During the summer, a very large number of sailors are present at the sea, and the capacities of all services are occupied with numerous activities. Informing and providing alternatives to anchoring in Posidonia meadows must precede surveillance and fine issuing. Due to the complexity of surveillance at the sea, even with an increase of the authority and capacity of the competent institutions, it is impossible to expect the presence of rangers and inspectors in every bay.
A positive example in the Mediterranean is the Balearic Islands (Formentera), where over the course of several years, through education and information, the negative impact of boaters on Posidonia meadows has been reduced to a minimum. Prevention through networking, cooperation, information exchange and equal approach to everyone on the sea was the key to success, thus the number of fines issued for improper anchoring was minimal.
In addition to strengthening surveillance, it is primarily necessary to build a network of institutions, organizations and representatives of the local community who will be involved in informing sailors and raising awareness on ways to reduce the impact of anchoring and nautical tourism in general on the marine ecosystem. It is necessary to carry out strong national and local campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of seagrasses, especially Posidonia meadows. To efficiently inform sailors, it is important to identify and use their existing communication channels and practice direct communication as much as possible.
Charter agencies, skippers, captains, and agents can contribute significantly to informing sailors. In the national skipper education plan and program, it is necessary to include environmental topics related to Posidonia and anchoring, as well as waste and wastewater management. The biggest challenge will be informing individual sailors who rent boats without a skipper, which are the majority on the Adriatic.
It should be kept in mind that many sailors who visit the Adriatic also visit other Mediterranean countries. In some of them, strong laws and campaigns related to these issues are already in force, so it is to be expected that part of the sailors who come to Croatia are already well informed. It is necessary to give them concrete information – where the Posidonia meadows are, where the ecological anchorages are located, contacts for assistance, what are the penalties for misbehaviours, etc. It is therefore important to strengthen international cooperation on the topic of the preservation of seagrasses.
A recording of the conference is available on the YouTube.
- 9 June 2022
- 10 June 2022
For SASPAS project partners
Association for Nature, Environment and Sustainable Development Sunce