The Vjosa is one of Europe’s last remaining wild rivers, running free and unobstructed from its origins in Greece through southern Albania to the Adriatic Sea. The river’s natural flow maintains a pristine biosphere that is home to numerous plant and animal species, some of which scientists haven’t seen in central Europe for decades, while new species are being found with every exploration downstream.
The river also holds important economic and cultural value for communities along its banks, which formed the backbone of Albania’s agricultural industry during communism but have seen widespread poverty and depopulation in recent decades. The Vjosa has inspired songs, poetry, legends and is even a popular name for newborn girls.
In spite of its importance, the Vjosa is facing numerous environmental threats including plans for multiple hydropower dams, exploratory oil drilling by Shell and construction of an international airport near its protected delta region. Now, the river and its tributaries have become the focal point and inspiration of a wider environmental protection movement in the Balkans, where over 3,000 dams are currently planned or under construction. These projects have the potential to cause widespread damage to the region’s largely wild ecosystems and displace entire communities.
Despite aspirations of joining the European Union, the Albanian government has ignored calls to halt the construction of dams on the Vjosa and its tributaries, which would qualify as a protected area under EU law. Meanwhile, an international group of scientists and activists have teamed up with local communities to apply mounting pressure through legal action and involvement of high-profile celebrities with the ultimate goal of declaring the length of the Vjosa a fully protected Wild River National Park, the first of its kind.