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“People need to reconnect with nature – to feel the need and motivation to take immediate action. Now.”

Ocean Witness Marinela shares her story

“For us, the Mediterranean is not just a sea. It is part of our life.” Marinela was born and raised in Vlora; a city where the Adriatic and Ionian sea meet. She has been working in the Karaburun-Sazan Marine Protected Area in Albania for almost 5 years now. Marinela participated in a lot of conservation initiatives, most of them related to marine turtles, to raise awareness of marine and coastal issues in the country. Today she shares her story.

become an ocean witness
14 May 2018 | Vlora, Albania

Hi Marinela, could you tell us more about your first memory of the Ocean?

These are the questions I can remember asking when I was really young: ‘How does living with the dolphins look like? Can I stay at the back of a marine turtle while swimming? Can we live in Karaburun? Who is living in Sazan?’. I have always shown interest about marine biology like big mammals, corals, wildlife in underwater caves and the history of our region. Before going to sleep or during our long days near the ocean, my father answered my silly and bizarre questions. Later on, documentaries, books and magazines were the guiders for my trip into the ocean. They helped me to dream big about the ocean and little did I know at the time, that it would become such a big part of my life.

 

I showed special interest about Karaburun Peninsula and Sazani Island, both lying in front of our beautiful city. At that time, accessing these territories was almost impossible. Sazani Island was a military base since the communist regime. Soldiers were living in that small island together with their families and were allowed to access the mainland only in case of special occasions. After the communist regime, the island still was the military’s territory. After many years it is finally opened for public and tourists nowadays. There, the time has stood still.

 

The same with Karaburun Peninsula. After the communist regime, accessing the peninsula was only possible through the sea. Just at the beginning of the peninsula another military base exists and a military checkpoint prevents accessing the peninsula from the mainland. There are no habitants. The peninsula is under protection as a managed reserve, while the military base is very near. We don’t know the future interaction between the military and the protected area administrators, but until recently the military base has played a crucial role protecting the marine park and the managed reserve from uncontrolled human activities. The landscape is a combination of wild nature and bunkers, which in my opinion it is a live museum of nature and history.

 

What does the ocean mean to you today?

After my graduation in biology, I used every opportunity to stay close to the sea; by working, volunteering, learning, exploring and teaching about it. I’ve always felt a strong connection with the ocean, and even more now that I live far away from it. The ocean gives me a feeling of strength and joy and it amazes me to know that there is a big, blue world right next to us.

“I am afraid some of the changes may be irreversible. But I also believe that if we start to care right now, we all have the power to make a positive change in the ocean.”
Marinela

What changes are you witnessing – for example in the work you do?

I will never forget those summer days in my childhood; we would encounter fish, starfish and gastropods while snorkeling. The local fishermen were always selling wild, fresh fish in the local market, with their baskets full of diverse fish. Unfortunately, things are not the same nowadays. The amount of fish has decreased, plastic residues are replacing the underwater wildlife and in some areas, bathing is no longer recommended in some places because of bad water qualities. We have all witnessed rapid changes in the Mediterranean, caused by global trends such as climate change and the overexploitation of finite resources.

 

Especially the Albanian coast has faced a rapid change in the last 20 years, after the communist regime. Developments in urbanization and population displacement have not only impacted us humans, but the coasts and the ocean as well. Damage was done to our biodiversity and the ecosystems. I am afraid some of the changes may be irreversible. But I also believe that if we start to care right now, we all have the power to make a positive change in the ocean. Luckily we already have some pioneers, mainly fishermen. They are supporting the idea of Marine Protected Areas because they would be the first ones to witness we are running out of resources. We – WWF, the government and the fishermen – are working hard together; we’re sharing knowledge, improving capacities and we hope that that will cause the fishermen to take the lead in their communities to bring more people aboard for a joint mission: making Marine Protected Areas work for real.

“Luckily we already have some pioneers, mainly fishermen. They are supporting the idea of Marine Protected Areas Work because they will be the first ones to witness we are running out of resources.”
Marinela

How are these changes affecting you?

For us, the Mediterranean is not just a sea. It is part of our life, it shapes our lifestyle, supports the livelihood of many coastal communities and it definitely connects us with each other. Nowadays societies are producing and consuming more. Evidently, this has a price tag on nature. There is overconsumption of natural resources, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. I am touched by the fact that we are losing significant parts of our natural assets every day, and we seem unable to stop it. Even though it is not visible, we are losing the real welfare, by eroding the systems that sustain the life on earth, including our life.

 

In the future, I don’t want my children to only learn from books or movies about the magic of the sea, fishes, seagrass, corals, crabs etc. I want them to have the chance of seeing them alive, touching nature, loving it, caring about it and getting in return its goods. By living more connected with nature, as people have done in the past, will make them feel the need to take care and preserve it. For this reason, beyond my passion for the ocean, I feel the responsibility to protect our sea and with it our identity and century-old culture for the coming generations.

“For us, The Mediterranean is not just a sea. It is part of our life, it shapes our lifestyle, supports the livelihood of many coastal communities and it definitely connects us with each other. I feel the responsibility to protect our sea and with it our identity and century-old culture for the coming generations.”
Marinela

What do you think are effective solutions to better protect our oceans?

I don’t know any other, more efficient or rewarding tools than Marine Protected Areas. They improve to state and resources of the ocean and make sure the interaction with humans is more balanced. The concept of Marine Protected Areas itself is adjustable to every corner of the globe. If well-managed they can restore ecosystems and biodiversity, serve as shelter for endangered species and ‘pump’ this richness into the ocean. Although costs are involved in the establishment and management of Marine Protected Areas, the economic and social benefits for current and future generations are beyond measure.

 

The Karaburun-Sazan Marine Protected Area was established in 2010, to preserve the high biodiversity and ecosystems in the waters surrounding Karaburun Peninsula and Sazani Island. After the establishment, its management was a big challenge because it was a new concept. After 8 years I can proudly say that progress was made. A government-based administration unit is established, both the knowledge and awareness of the marine park have increased, groups of interest are improving their understanding by actively participating in the park’s activities, and the enthusiasm for nature-based tourism activities is growing. We may not see the change directly when looking at the surface of the ocean alone, but I see the difference in the local community perception. Even though we still have a long way to go, I am optimistic that we are on the right path.

 

What will the ocean look like in 2030?

In nature terms, 12 years is a very short period to restore some of the damage done to our ecosystems, but it can be a reasonable timeframe for people to finally understand that we should all take action. I hope our governments will take strategic measures to protect the ocean, that more untouched sites are established to reduce the impact of activities such as fisheries, transport, or energy developments. I hope local communities will respect the rules and manage natural resources together.

 

My perfect summer day in 2030? I’ll go for a dive with my children and we’ll see a lot of fascinating fish. We’ll play with them and take lots of pictures. After that, we’ll enjoy a lovely meal in a small fishing boat, while we chat about how the fisherman and his friends managed to stop the construction of some big resort near the Marine Park.

“In nature terms, 12 years is a very short period to restore some of the damage done to our ecosystems, but it can be a reasonable timeframe for people to finally understand that we should all take action.”
Marinela

Thank you, for sharing your story, Marinela. You’re an Ocean Witness now. What do you want to say to your fellow Ocean Witnesses?

I would like to share a quote from my role model Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. People need to reconnect with nature; to feel the need and motivation to take immediate action. Now.

About Marinela

Marinela is 29 years old and was born in Vlora, a city in Albania where the Adriatic and Ionian sea meet. She has a background in environmental biologist and she’s working for protected marine and coastal areas in her country. Marinela participated in a lot of conservation initiatives, some of them related to marine turtles, to raise awareness of marine and coastal issues in the country. She’s currently based in Germany, attending a master program on bio-economy, in this study she looks at natural and biological resources from an economic perspective. She plans to get back to her hometown – the Karaburun-Sazan Marine Protected Area – soon to move forward with the work initiated with the Marine Park and to bring in some new ideas and approaches she has learned during her master’s degree.

 

Read more
Want to know more about Marinela? Click here to read. Do you want to read more about how an MPA can contribute to the livelihood of entire communities? Click here to read the story of Ocean Witness Samson in Madagascar, who saw the benefits of MPAs on the ocean and the livelihood of his community with his own eyes. Marinela spoke about fishermen and their contributions to MPAs. A couple of months ago, we spoke to a fisherman from Portugal, Emanuel. Click here to read his story.

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Marinela Mitro

Vlora, Albania

Marinela is working for protected marine and coastal areas in her country. Marinela participated in a lot of conservation initiatives, some of them related to marine turtles, to raise awareness of marine and coastal issues in the country.