How Biological Surveys Prevent Destructive Dams in the Balkans


Balkan countries contain a large number of mostly wild and free-flowing rivers, which are home to impressive biodiversity but which have become threatened by a wave of hydroelectric dam proposals in recent years: 3,200 mostly small hydropower plants are proposed to be built there in the next few years, the conservation organization RiverWatch estimates.

So they helped to launch Scientists for Balkan Rivers, a corps of researchers from institutions around Europe that rapidly assesses the biological diversity at stake — from mollusks to mammals, bugs and birds — if the Europe’s last free-flowing rivers disappear under reservoirs.

They’ve documented great biological richness and also species new to science there in recent years, revealing a natural heritage that can be used by conservationists to argue for greater protection of these rivers from flow-altering energy projects.

Mongabay sent reporter Monica Pelliccia to join their latest survey on the Neretva River in Bosnia-Herzegovina, watch her video report here:

Though hydropower is widely agreed to be a renewable source of energy, Scientists for Balkan Rivers argues that producing electricity in this manner has extremely high biological costs, and uses its freshly gathered data to make the argument for conservation.

In March of this year, the Balkan country of Albania agreed with them, and used the group’s data as part of its decision to cancel a giant dam project proposed for the Vjosa River, and instead named the area a national park.

RiverWatch founder and CEO Ulrich Eichelmann, who is interviewed in the video report, also appeared on Mongabay’s podcast in 2022 to explain the genesis of the campaign and its successes, listen to his thoughts here:

Europe already has more than a million barriers like dams on rivers, with 23,000 of them registered as hydroelectric units, Eichelmann says. But with climate change-induced drought threatening to diminish their flows and therefore the economic basis for such dams, momentum for the campaign to keep such rivers flowing freely has increased.

The campaign was also featured extensively in a documentary film, Blue Heart: The Fight for Europe’s Last Wild Rivers, produced by outdoor gear company Patagonia, view it here.

Source : Mongabay