Albanian Center for Marine Research: Protecting Ksamil Bay
The southern Albanian coastline features diverse and valuable marine habitats threatened by rapidly increasing coastal development and tourism. Very little ecological data exists for this fragile and extensive marine ecosystem. This research conducted by the Albanian Center for Marine Research aims to remedy and bridge this knowledge gap by furthering marine conservation efforts in Ksamil Bay, Albania using methodologies that will be applicable to other marine systems in Albania. During August 2013, this study generated high-resolution habitat maps using side-scan sonar and multibeam echosounder sonar. Baseline data were collected with diver surveys, stationary arrays of video cameras, and temperature loggers. Additionally, hypotheses were tested to discern the differences in fish communities on the various habitat types in Ksamil Bay and to elucidate how fish use different features on artificial reefs and surrounding habitats. Notably, this study occurred at a precipitous time in Albania because in September 2013, a new government was elected that promised to develop comprehensive conservation and management plans to protect marine ecosystems. In January 2014, a coastal management agency, called the National Coastal Agency, was created and approved by the Albanian Parliament. Shortly thereafter, development within one kilometer of the coast was prohibited for twelve months, or until management plans could be enacted. As such, the results of this research have been and will continue to be disseminated to the newly established Agency to directly guide applied marine conservation and resource management both in Ksamil Bay and the entire Albanian coastline.
Ksamil Bay, located in southern Albania, is an excellent environment to investigate marine ecosystem change because it harbors a high diversity of habitat types. Ksamil Bay features healthy Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds, extensive soft sediment habitats, and both natural hard bottom and artificial submerged structures. Artificial structures include five decommissioned Albanian Navy vessels purposely sunk in 2010 as the country’s seminal artificial reef project, presenting an opportunity to understand complex patterns surrounding the introduction of foreign material. Despite the presence of diverse marine habitats in the bay, no comprehensive biological community datasets or habitat maps have been created. This valuable marine system will inevitably face increased anthropogenic disturbance from tourism and development because Ksamil Bay has been heralded as the ‘Albanian Riviera’ and recently ranked in the top destinations in the world. As such, it is imperative that habitat maps are created and baseline data are gathered for Ksamil Bay.