Pirin World Heritage Site Suffers Irreversible Damage From Ski Resort Construction
Pirin National Park, one of Europe's most important biodiversity hotspots, has suffered irreparable damage from the construction and expansion of Bansko ski resort, reveals a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report published Monday. The analysis found that the ski resort, approved by Bulgaria's government in 2000, has also compromised Pirin's long-term economic value and delivered a mixed economic impact to date.
Amendments made to Pirin's current management plan by Bulgaria's government in December have now opened up to 48 percent of the park to construction activities. A new draft management plan, currently under dispute in court, would allow construction of ski infrastructure in an area 12.5 times bigger than the current area and logging in 60 percent of the national park.
The report forcefully shows that these plans would cause irreversible damage to the World Heritage site and are based on a questionable business case.
"Ski development in pursuit of short-term gains has already taken a shocking toll on Pirin," said Veselina Kavrakova, WWF-Bulgaria country head. "This report brings its damaging impact on both nature and Pirin's long-term economic value into sharp focus. Bulgaria's government cannot simply press on with plans to allow the ski area to increase 12-fold. It must instead listen to its citizens who are calling for Pirin to be protected.
"Sustainable economic development can better capture the long-term potential of the park and extend the tourism offering beyond skiing by developing year-round activities to attract more visitors outside the winter months."
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Pirin is Europe's best preserved home for iconic species such as the brown bears, grey wolves and the lesser spotted eagle. The changes to its current management plan were pushed through by Bulgaria's government on Dec. 28 after WWF and a coalition of NGOs filed a lawsuit against the government's proposed new management plan. This surreptitious move has sparked weekly street protests in more than 20 cities in Bulgaria and dozens more around the world.
WWF's report, "Slippery Slopes: Protecting Pirin from Unsustainable Ski Expansion and Logging," highlights that, when building the current ski zones, the concessionaire constructed ski facilities on 60 percent more national park territory than contracted. This construction caused irreversible damage to the national park. As a result, two areas lost the status of World Heritage Site and were labelled as "buffer zones."
The provisions in the draft management plan now pose a potential further threat to Pirin's important ecosystems. Ski infrastructure construction and widespread logging would seriously threaten the park's wildlife by destroying, reducing and fragmenting natural habitats. The expansion would take place in some of the most pristine and valuable areas within the park, and would require cutting down old Macedonian and Bosnian pine trees. It is estimated that more than 3,000 hectares of forest would need to be felled to facilitate the planned expansion of ski areas.
The report also finds that the assumptions underlying the economic case for ski expansion are weak. The ski zones are shown to have had mixed economic impact on the local economy to date, as demonstrated by increased unemployment, population reduction and drastic decrease of property value. Bansko is also not maximizing the potential of its existing facilities. Furthermore, climate change effects are expected to affect snow conditions, increasing dependency on artificial snow and inflating the cost of operating the ski resort as well as pressure on local water supplies.
WWF's report instead provides a roadmap for developing Pirin sustainably. This vision focuses on year-round sustainable tourism and an income diversification strategy for the area. Looking ahead, developments in the park's municipalities should be guided by a national strategy for sustainable winter and summer tourism. The report also features alternatives and business opportunities for Pirin outside the ski season.
"Rather than pursue harmful ski developments, Bulgaria's government should use Pirin's natural value to grow the local economy in a way that doesn't irreversibly damage this incredible national park," said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. "We are calling on all parties to come together and embrace a future that preserves Pirin for future generations to enjoy."
If successful, Pirin could serve as a blueprint for sustainable management of mountain ecosystems in Bulgaria and beyond, and its nature would be protected for current and future generations, the report says. Otherwise, Pirin could be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as a consequence of the irreversible damage to its outstanding universal value.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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