IS THE TEARDROP OF EUROPE WEEPING? (Montenegro)
“On the entrance gate, between the skies, the river and the hills, generation after generation learnt not to mourn overmuch what the troubled waters had borne away. Life was an incomprehensible marvel, since it was incessantly wasted and spent, yet none the less it endured like the bridge on the Drina…”
The Tara river, known as the Teardrop of Europe due to its crystal-clear turquoise water, springs below the mountain range Komovi. With its numerous tributaries, it builds a 149 km long river basin that cleft the deepest and most beautiful canyon in Europe and the second most important in the world, right after the Colorado canyon.
Picture 1 — Tara River, a mountain beauty of indomitable strength
Fascination with unrestrained strength and miraculous richness of forms of this indomitable mountain beauty raises a new question: “Why are there tears in the eye of such a gift of nature?”
While we are proud of the fact that in 1980 the National Park Durmitor has been inscribed in the World Heritage List, and in 1977 the river Tara and its canyon became a part of the Man and the Biosphere Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), we are still obliged to preserve these Montenegrin gems of nature for future generations.
That is why the disturbance of the natural balance in the canyon of the Tara river, caused by the construction of the Bar–Boljare highway, requires an urgent response.
The highway will create new development opportunities, reduce the gap in economic development of the north of Montenegro, and establish a modern transport connection between Montenegro and Central Europe. Although there are no doubts about the strategic long-term significance of this large development project, we must also consider it in relation to the negative impacts of construction works on the biodiversity and nature of the Tara river valley.
At the Mateševo construction site, the Tara riverbed regulation project ended with an undesirable epilogue. The course of the river was changed due to the construction of bridges Tara 1 and 2. The natural coverage of the floodplain area has been significantly reduced due to the river course now being strictly regulated. The river valley has been turned into an area of low biological value, while key species and habitats have been permanently lost. Numerous construction waste landfills have been formed on the banks of the Tara’s tributaries. According to assessments of non-governmental organizations and numerous experts, the discharge of waste water, hazardous substances, cement waste and works in the riverbed have endangered its ecological status. However, the representatives of official institutions explained that the expert team defined appropriate measures for remediation and monitoring of the Tara river environment in the Study on the assessment of the environmental impact of highway construction.
Picture 2 — Regulation of the Tara’s riverbed, Mateševo
How is it possible to have such conflicting opinions about one and the same important environmental problem? Will the consequences of this great development project forever leave a scar on the face of our mountain beauty?
In search of answers, I went to the construction site in Mateševo to check the truthfulness of the information published in the media. Faced with the landscape of a wounded river, I remembered Ivo Andrić’s words once again: “Anything else could be imagined, rather than such a miraculous building existing in that torn and desolate area. It seemed as if both shores threw a foamy jet of water towards each other, and these jets collided, assembled into an arch and remained so for a moment, floating over the abyss…” Will the arches of the Tara 1 and 2 bridges become a symbol of this area? Will we replace the natural course of the Tara River with a regulated one, that will remain to testify to the price that nature had to pay in order to meet economic needs?
Ana Mišurović, MA, told us that tens of thousands of cubic meters of concrete were used for the construction of several supporting pillars of future bridges at the Mateševo construction site, which changed the natural acidity of the water environment into a base environment. Consequently, this chemical process has led to a permanent disruption of the biocenosis in the range of habitats of this part of the riverbed and the Tara Valley. Construction works have irreversibly led to mechanical damage to the habitats of many valuable species. These negative impacts will be felt in the lower part of the course, which is most attractive for tourists. Increased traffic intensity on the highway will cause an increase in exhaust emissions that can be estimated at at least 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. It should have been imperative to choose a route for the highway that would not go along the riverbed and would not intersect with the course of the Tara river. New technological solutions should have been applied, which would diminish the threat to the environment and the negative effects of exhaust emissions on the climate.
Picture 3 — Interview with Ana Mišurović
The previously presented expert opinion is in line with the conclusions of the UNESCO’s Mission and the European Commission, by which these organizations call on us to take urgent measures in order to improve the ecological status of the Tara river.
After Mateševo I reached the magnificent Djurdjevića Tara bridge. As we looked at the strong and fearless Tara river, we felt its strength and beauty, but also its sorrow. We betrayed it, though it gave us so much. We enjoy its beauty, we raft on its rapids and we are recognized by its name all over the world. Thousands of tourists cherish Montenegro in their memory precisely because of Tara river. We want to continue to be embraced by its shores, but also to get to its banks quicker and easier. Both are possible, but only if we respect the power of knowledge. Knowledge is our guide to a sustainable future with a special place for the ecological state of Montenegro and the Tara river, which shines with the beauty of its untamed strength.
Text and photo by: Jovana Damjanović (Elementary school „Dr Dragiša Ivanović“, Podgorica)