Effective nature conservation of any area is indeed impossible without the existence of data. When we speak in terms of nature conservation basic data includes the knowledge about the distribution of species and habitats. For comparison, natural resources management in the absence of basic data is the same as closed eye navigation. Sooner or later it will lead to stranding with a strong chance of causing irreversible damage. Unfortunately, knowledge of the geographical distribution of biodiversity in Croatia is limited, especially when it comes to the Adriatic Sea. There are various reasons for such situation.
Photo: Crab Maja squinado on red gorfonian (Antonio Rossetti)
They vary from lack of funds and qualified experts to physiological constraints that prevent prolonged stay under the sea. Overcoming these problems will be a long and extensive task, but the improvement made over the last few years gives us reason for optimism. Various organizations, governmental (primarily State Institute for Nature Protection), research institutes, private companies and NGO-s have contributed to the national census of the marine habitats and species.
Photo: Nudibranch Flabellina affinis (Antonio Rossetti)
NGO Sunce started the process of collecting data on marine biodiversity in 2005 on the island of Vis. Since then we have conducted a number of research surveys, primarily in Lastovo Islands Nature Park (mapped more than 120 locations) followed by research in Dugi otok, Mali Lošinj and Brijuni National Park. Considering that proposals for NATURA 2000 protected areas network are currently being made in Croatia, we decided to make a study on marine biodiversity in some parts of Split-Dalmatia County. The study was conducted throug
hout 2010 with the emphasis on potential NATURA 2000 sites. Thus, we examined the seabed south of the island of Brac and, in the smaller extent, of the island of Solta. We also examined the area of Pakleni otoci near Hvar and finally location Vrulja near the town of Omiš.
During the research, as was expected, we found diversity of species and habitats, especially at locations such as Pakleni otoci where coralligenous communities and communities of semi-dark caves with dense settlements of gorgonians dominate the rocky seabed. At Vrulja we have determined the presence of endangered marine species such as corals Corynactis viridis and sponges Axinella cannabina and Geodya cydonium. On the other hand we have also found serious damage (caused by fishing gear or anchoring) to Posidonia meadows, the most important marine habitat in the Mediterranean. Invasive green algae Caulerpa racemosa was also found.
Based on these findings, we have prepared an expert study in which we propose the inclusion of some parts of the studied areas (island Vodnjak Veliki and Vrulja area) in the protected areas under the Nature Protection Act and enlargement of the existing Ecological network to cover some biologically very valuable sites like Kampanel shallows. We also believe that it is necessary to introduce no-take fishing zones and regulate diving activities in these locations. Such measures would contribute to restoration of fish stock in a wider area, better conservation of habitats and species and it would as well contribute to the development of controlled diving tourism.
Photo: Moray eel (Antoni Rossetti)
Another important aspect of these projects is training of volunteers, mostly biology students, for habitat mapping and species recognition. In this way we increase the number of people skilled for such work and the process of marine research and protection is accelerated, which is of a strategic importance for Croatia. In order to protect the Adriatic Sea and its natural resources we need to understand its functions and processes. The fact that a marine census of the Adriatic has not been done so far shows a careless attitude towards our greatest natural resource.
Mosor Prvan, NGO Sunce