Plitvice Lakes National Park - Croatia

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Name Plitvice Lakes National Park
Place Plitvice Lakes
Country Republic of Croatia
Author(s) Vedran Vuković
World Heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1979

Plitvice keyimage.jpg

Why is this case relevant?

  • Plitvice lakes national park is located in the Republic of Croatia and it is the Croatian oldest and largest national park, having that status since 1949. It is located in a mountainous karst region with a surface of just under 300 square kilometers in size. Primarily covered in forest vegetation with some smaller grassland areas and 16 larger and several smaller cascading lakes connected by waterfalls, which are its key feature. The unique characteristic of Plitvice lakes is the biodynamic process of sedimentary tufa rocks formation and consequentially tufa (travertine) barriers which resulted in the creation of the characteristic lakes and waterfalls. This would be the outstanding value of the location which led to its international recognition and its declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. On top of its geological uniqueness, Plitvice lakes is abundantly rich in flora and fauna, out of which a lot are endemic and some have been placed on the red list of protected species, with approximately 1400 plant species present and a large number of animals, including some larger predator species.

Which idea of ‘design with nature’ guides the design concept of this site?

  • The largest part of the Plitvice lakes national park comes under strict conservation as entirely untouched or insignificantly touched natural areas rich in biodiversity and natural beauty, as such there is little to no requirements for maintenance or any actions in such areas. Entirely opposite to that the smaller areas concentrated in the vicinity of the larger lakes in Plitvice is a major touristic attraction containing recreational and touristic infrastructure as well as some settlements of cultural importance portraying the traditional way of life as part of the national park’s cultural heritage. These areas require high and active maintenance efforts in order to preserve them as they are and to limit the human influence from high touristic pressure to the relatively small location which needs to remain unaltered as much as it is possible. This constant conflict is what needs to be regularly dealt with as the lack of maintenance or proper planning efforts would have devastating consequences on this landscape.

Which challenges is this landscape facing?

  • Plitvice lakes National Park faces a lot of problems which have started to be publicly revealed over the past years and which may cause it to be categorized as an endangered UNESCO world heritage site, or, if there isn´t going to be a significant improvement, even removed from the list. One of the problems is the overcrowding in the Park caused by its increased popularity and mass tourism. Recently there has been over one and a half million tourists per year and sometimes even more then 15 000 visitors daily during the peak touristic season. Such a high touristic pressure has already caused some devastation as the visitors act with neglect to the ecosystems, not following the designated path for movement and entering closed areas, damaging the flora, leaving trash or feeding fish and other animals, which is forbidden. Secondly there has been a rapid increase in apartmanization as the number of built apartments for rental in the Park has almost doubled over the past 10 years and a large number of new building permits have been granted, even for building in the protected areas of the Park, also there has been news of a possibility of new hotels being built in the future. The most pressing matter in Plitvice Lakes would be the pollution in the Park, which has already been detected in the waters, caused by non-existence of a sufficient sewer system and wastewater purification as the wastewater from the apartments and some residential houses is being released directly into the environment, which causes not only the pollution of waters but it also directly effects the process of tufa barrier formation by killing the microorganism which are essential for its creation. Another serious risk for pollution is from the traffic, especially the transportation of oil and fuel, on the major state road that passed through Plitvice Lakes water catchment area. Finally, as there is no alternative clean water source, the potable water for the settlements in the Park is currently being drained from the largest Kozjak lake and some water streams which, unless dealt with, will lead to their drainage and the drainage of the waterfalls in the Park.

What would be your strategy for improvement?

  • In order to trigger a positive change in this environment various steps and measures need to be undertaken, of which some are quite urgent. The number of visitors in the Park has to be restricted to the amount that would be more easily controlled and monitored in order to ensure that they do not damage the sensitive ecosystems of the park, also their movement should be more strictly directed away from these sensitive areas. The uncontrolled apartmanization needs to be stopped and the building of the new touristic capacities should be concentrated in the settlements outside of the Park boundaries, while providing a good transport connection to the Park. Furthermore, one of the most urgent measures would be to provide sufficient infrastructure for the already built settlements, both in ways of a new sewage system and water purification stations, as well as an outer source of clean potable water. Lastly, it is important to redirect the traffic from the district road in the Park by building a new road away from the Parks water catchment area to avoid any possible pollution from transportation.

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