Valbona BioBlitz

I was asked to do this piece of writing as a feature for Termokiss, a community-run centre in Prishtina, Kosovo with the mission of urban and civil exchange, reflection and change.

You can read the original post here.

Hello, my name is Rose, and I cycle all over Europe volunteering on different permaculture initiatives, eco projects, environmental and community projects. This month I am volunteering at TOKA, a Non-Governmental Organization set up to try and stop hydroelectric dams from destroying the Valbona National Park in Albania. To be honest, at the beginning, I didn’t know what a ‘BioBlitz’ was, and it took me a little bit of time to figure out what it meant for this region and for the impact it could have on preserving the rivers under threat here.  

First I will explain to you a little bit about the history of the ‘BioBlitz’. It was conceived by world renowned entomologist (a person who studies insects), Edward O. Wilson. It is part scientific endeavor, part community gathering, and part educational event. A BioBlitz takes a snapshot of the biodiversity of a specific geographic area, counting how many different species can be found rather than the size of specific species populations.  

On this occasion, the Valbona River BioBlitz was also rare opportunity for the local community to engage with scientists, educators, volunteers, and naturalists; as part of a world-wide scientific endeavor to gather and catalog as many insects and reptiles, plants and pollinators, mammals and fish via an mobile phone app called iNaturalist.  

By hosting a BioBlitz, TOKA was aiming to demonstrate the Tropojë region and Valbona National Park as an important habitat and present it as an area of strong scientific significance and beautiful wilderness. This was in the hopes of halting human encroachment on the area and to bring to light the important nature which will be damaged further by continuous plans for hydroelectric power plants in the National Park. 

This digital ‘citizen science’ is very new to the rural peoples who live in or near the Valbona National Park, so it was a challenge to explain how to use the iNaturalist app and to make a connection between nature and the concept of apps or even capturing digital data. When a person or community is so immersed in their landscape it can be hard to conceive of the importance that their home has in the wider context of ‘the world’. I have been trying to live a more meaningful life which includes less use of social media and more time present in my environment so I can greatly understand the disconnect of using a mobile phone within a natural setting. If your home is placed in an area of outstanding beauty then you are innately intimately connected with it, it must be strange to go around clinically documenting everything! 

As for my experience, my first ever BioBlitz, was really amazing. I loved how these diverse people, languages, and cultures came together to experience nature. People who had never been to the Valbona River before, young people, film makers, biologists, drone drivers, traditional mountain men who had lived in the area for generations, and transient people like me who don’t live in any one place. All of us together for one cause: to experience beauty and to help stop industries from destroying that beauty.  

By the end of the day we had collected over 40 biodiversity samples and logged them into the iNaturalist app. We had eaten delicious traditional food in an epic location, we had made countless friends and connections, experienced a place which had changed dramatically in the last decades (Albania only started to open up to the outside world after the death of Enver Hoxha) and is under threat to change again in the next decades. We had experienced a unique moment in time and that moment is deathless.  

Some useful websites: 

To learn more about the iNaturalist app – click here

To host your own BioBlitz – click here and here

To learn more about the work TOKA is doing in Valbona – click here

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We would also be happy to hear from you, so get in touch with ideas, communities, places, people or in solidarity with the small change we are trying to make in an uncertain world.

:)
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