DURRES, Albania (Reuters) - Croatia, anxious to protect its Adriatic beaches which lure millions of tourists every year, has begun helping nearby Albania to clean up its own territorial waters and improve its ability to respond quickly to oil spills and other hazards.
Albania has made some headway in tackling marine pollution, with the army and volunteers helping to clean up beaches at the start of each tourist season, but garbage thrown into rivers generally washes eventually into the Adriatic.
Sea currents and winds make this a big problem for Croatia, further north up the coast, and it is particularly visible in the winter months, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Thursday on a trip to the Albanian port of Durres.
“A lot of effort and a lot of funding is invested into cleaning the shores of the Adriatic. We would prefer to invest that money into prevention of any environmental pollution,” she said at a ceremony to launch the new cleanup project.
Croatia is funding the first stage of the project, worth a quarter of a million euros, as its booming tourism industry generates 20 percent of its gross domestic product.
Grabar-Kitarovic also told Albania, which hopes to join the European Union, that environmental protection was one of the “most complex” chapters, or policy areas, for a candidate country to negotiate. Croatia joined the EU in 2013.
Limya Eltayeb, the Albania director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said her agency was helping to tackle marine pollution and to prevent accidents affecting the Adriatic coast, in collaboration with the governments in Zagreb and Tirana.
With 75 million metric tonnes of goods plying the Adriatic viewed as a pollution risk, UNDP is focusing on contingency plans, arguing that people will “forgive accidents, but be less willing to relent on unpreparedness or arrogance”.
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Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Gareth Jones