The Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation (the BWI) works to protect the Adriatic Sea marine environment. To that end, the BWI operates three programmes – research, education, and conservation. The research focuses mainly on large marine vertebrates (dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks and species like the giant devil rays or the monk seal), informing our education activities and conservation projects. They collaborate with the local communities based on the Adriatic coast and islands, encouraging sustainable development.
Their efforts also extend to the national and international, often regional levels, advancing sustainable marine management and environmental sustainability in the Mediterranean Basin. The Educational programme is predominantly carried out in the Lošinj Marine Education Centre (LMEC) in Veli Lošinj. The LMEC provides space for housing a permanent exhibition for general public awareness-raising and specialist facilities for structured educational programmes focused on various interest groups. The BWI has developed programmes for school groups that consist of multiple lectures and workshops, and one of the main topics that we are dealing with is the problem of marine litter. Over the last fifteen years, the BWI has been a partner to eighteen EU funded projects from nine programmes, including European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, Interreg Italy-Croatia, LIFE, Erasmus Plus, Horizon2020, Interreg Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Croatia, Interreg Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Cross-Border Cooperation, PHARE and CARDS.
We’ve met Jelena Basta, President at the Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation and environmental education specialist. Recently she’s been coordinating projects related to marine litter issues, organizing cleanups, public awareness events and education programmes on this topic.
So Jelena, can you tell us a little about yourself. What brought you to work with the Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation?
As a biologist born and bred on the island of Lošinj, I was involved in the Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation (BWI) activities from the very beginning. Together with a group of researchers and enthusiasts back in 1999, we decided to continue our work on the Adriatic Dolphin Project studying the local population of bottlenose dolphins, initially started by our Italian colleagues in 1987 on the Cres-Lošinj Archipelago. After they finished their study, we decided to fund a non-governmental organisation, the Blue World Institute, and continue monitoring the same population.
Therefore, with 34 years of research in the row, the Adriatic Dolphin Project is the most extended ongoing study of one bottlenose dolphin population in the wild in the whole Mediterranean and one of the world longest. Since I’m an environmental education specialist, education program development has always been the focus of my role at BWI role.
What results have you achieved so far with your organisation?
From being a small NGO leaning on volunteer work and donations to study bottlenose dolphins local population, we became a recognised and relevant regional organisation that carries our three main programs – Scientific Research, Education and Conservation and employs 23 professionals. In these 21 years, we participated in 18 EU funded projects working with numerous international partner organisations, mainly from the Mediterranean and worldwide. In 2003 we opened Lošinj Marine Education Centre in Veli Lošinj that hosted over 100.000 visitors to promote marine conservation and sustainable tourism. We developed dozens of education programs for different age and interest groups. Also, BWI was the main initiator and promoter of establishing the Natura 2000 area in the Cres-Lošinj Archipelago.
The Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation collaborates with the local communities. In what way have you engaged with them?
From the very beginning, BWI is cooperating closely with the City of Mali Lošinj as the local administrative unit in the main study area and the local community. The City was our leading partner in many projects, including opening the education centre to promote our activities as one of the pillars for sustainable tourism development on the island. Since we opened two other field stations in Murter, North Dalmatia and at the island of Vis in Central Dalmatia, we are continuously developing joint local projects with their local communities.
In the BWI, we strongly believe in the importance of the community-led local development concept as one of the premises for the conservation and management of the marine environment. Additionally, we also think that the local inhabitants are the best promotors of sound sustainable practices at the sea. Cooperation and exchange of knowledge with fishermen, tourist boats and recreational boat owners are essential to us.
Your organisation has also collaborated internationally to advance environmental sustainability in the Mediterranean Sea. What sort of collaborations are you most proud of?
Being an NGO, we are very proud of being recognised among the leading scientific institutions for marine research in the region as one of the most competent organisations in large marine vertebrates research in the Adriatic Sea. As such, currently, we participate in five big international scientific research projects. That’s important because marine conservation doesn’t recognise the borders, the same as the species we study. We share the Adriatic Sea with several countries; however, it is an essential part of the Mediterranean; thus, we share the same marine conservation challenges. Collaboration is crucial for all of us.
Based on your experience, do you think that awareness of marine species protection issues has changed over the years?
As someone with over 20 years of experience in working on environmental education, I can say that awareness of marine species protection and marine conservation issues, in general, has significantly increased. There are two reasons for that. First is increased education activities through various public awareness actions such as campaigns, events and media. The other reason is perhaps more negative: it is the fact that some threats to the marine environment became so evident and alarming that we cannot ignore them anymore. The best example of it is the problem of marine litter. We can only step up our efforts in finding innovative solutions for some of these threats and hope that it is not too late.
In a nutshell, what can the sailor visiting the Med do in practical terms to help the Blue World Institute of Marine Research and Conservation?
One of the programs that we are constantly developing is the Citizen Science program, a great help to our field research activities. Expanding a network of leisure and recreational boat users in the Adriatic Sea is particularly important to enhance observation efforts on the sea. Through our Citizen Science apps, we've received hundreds of information on the locations where some particular species where spotted, such as dolphins, whales, sea turtles. We also receive notifications on some emergencies where instant reactions where needed, which helped us act. If you want to join this program, you can report your sighting on the sea at https://www.blue-world.org/get-involved/citizen-science/report-a-sighting/
Additionally, we would like to use this opportunity to share sailors' simple rules when encountering dolphins and other marine mammals at sea – slow down, keep the distance of min 50 m, don’t try to chase them or cross their way. Just be a quiet and patient observer, and in many cases, they will show their appreciation by approaching your boat themselves.
Are things looking up for the future? Can we feel confident we can over time swim in cleaner seas and enjoy the sightings of more and more marine species?
We have to stay optimist and believe that the conservation actions and efforts will eventually pay off. The best way to reach this goal is through education on all levels!
You can support the Blue World Research activities by donating to Blue World Institute through the Adopt a dolphin program at www.adopt-a-dolphin.org or you can start following them on Instagram @blueworldinstitute or Facebook blueworldinstitute
Fancy reading more stories like this one? Flick through the second issue of our sailing magazine, Magister Navis and get inspired on your next sail!