Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia: Saving Nature, Boosting Incomes
September 12, 2013
The Vjetrenica cave in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina has been around for 10 million years, but only recently have tourists been able to access it in an ecologically safe way that protects both them and the cave’s delicate environment.
“The cave is the number one in the world in terms of bio diversity. We have a lot of plants and animals that live only in the cave. One of these is the human-like fish that, like many others, lives under the ground and has skin that looks human,” says Ana Soldo, Manager of the Vjetrenica site. The cave itself is made of calcareous rock that has been shaped over millennia by water and rivers.
All of this area is very important for this part of country and for the entire world because it is a wetland. It is one of the last wetlands in Europe.
As a result of a World Bank-supported environmental conservation project, Soldo says that the local community was able to create eco-friendly walkways inside the cave, as well as provide trained guides, coats, and flashlights to tourists who come to admire the cave’s many dark and chilly galleries, corridors, pools of water, and stalactites.
“We also created brochures and pamphlets and built bathrooms near the entrance of the cave,” says Soldo.
The project - which helped Soldo and her community preserve and protect the cave - is called The Neretva and Trebisnjica Management Project, and is run by the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The overall aim of the project is to improve areas near the Neretva and Trebisnjica River Basins in those two countries. The project is helping determine the right balance between development - which is using up water sources - and the protection of nature - which depends on those same sources.
Improved management of the Neretva and Trebisnjica River Basins helps secure the well-being of the animals, birds, fish, and humans living nearby, say those, like Biologist Irena Raguz, who are involved in conservation efforts. Raguz works at the Hutovo Blato Nature Park in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was supported by the project through renovations to facilities used to feed and watch birds there.
This, along with other aid projects, is helping to restore habitat necessary for the return of some species that have diminished in the area, says Raguz.
“All of this area is very important for this part of country and for the entire world because it is a wetland. It is one of the last wetlands in Europe, actually,” Raguz says of Hutovo Blato.
The improvements at the park and other areas are also having positive economic impacts on nearby communities. In the areas around Hutovo Blato and the Vjetrenica cave, an increase in tourism has led an increase in the number of small businesses there which cater to the new visitors, such as restaurants and tourist shops.
“Now there is local production of natural foods like honey and wine and tourists go to the restaurants that offer these products. Without [preservation efforts] people could not sell these products,” says Ana Soldo.
Other areas are also benefiting from these preservation initiatives as well. Niksa Bogunovic lives near the Bacine Lakes in Croatia’s Dalmatia region, where eco-friendly bike and walking paths were recently constructed with project funds.
“These bike trails that are being constructed here definitely influence tourism - which means that people from this region can offer their products,” he says, adding that the paths have led to a rise in tourists, as well as to increases in the number of boats he now rents out to them.