We all consider ourselves worldly. Not Columbus worldly, but at least ‘well travelled.’
I thought of myself as such up until 12 hours ago, when an Instagram post swung out of my phone and slapped me square in the face.
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Paradise found in Croatia. This is Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia’s oldest and one of its largest national parks. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. This park is renowned for its natural beauty and spectacular scenery, which has made it one of Europe’s most popular parks—up to 15,000 people per day in peak season! Due to the advent of social media, however, the increased tourism to this place in the past few years has started to cause issues. One part of the problem is the construction of vacation homes and clearing of land near the borders of the park, resulting in damage to the park. The main problem, however, lies with visitors who do not respect the rules of the park. To accommodate the 1.3M+ annual visitors to the park while minimizing ecological impact, park officials built bridges and walkways that offer unbeatable views and safe paths (some right over the water). Over the past few years, visitors wanting selfies have wandered off the wooden paths, sometimes into the water, and some have died as a result. Reckless tourists have also caused significant damage to the park. Today, Plitvice Lakes National Park is at risk of losing its UNESCO status. Park officials are considering a number of options because the recklessness and careless attitude of tourists caused harm to both the visitors and the park. In mid-2017, Croatian officials began to limit the number of visitors to another park to 10,000 per day, and a similar limit is being considered for Plitvice Lakes. Again, rules are necessary for protection of visitors and the natural spaces we want to enjoy. Please stick to designated paths, and follow restrictions that can be looked up before visiting any park. This is a collaborative effort that requires individual integrity, and we hope that you can hold yourself to a higher standard. #RulesForExploring Featured | @eyes.abroad Location | Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia #WWTTY | Where Will TOTEM Take You? ____________________ #TOTEMMade #PlitviceLakes #Croatia
The post alerted me to two things.
Firstly: I am the travel equivalent of an anti-vaxxer, naively believing in ‘gravity’ and blissfully unaware that the “falling lakes” existed, despite thousands of people taking selfies of them every day.
Secondly: this incredible natural wonder is under threat from the very people that alerted me to its presence. Pie munching Aussies. Beer swilling Brits. Sauerkraut happy Germans. Americans.
Which leaves me (us?) with a dilemma. Do we visit this real-life manifestation of an old Microsoft screensaver before it collapses under the weight of Augustus Gloop worshipping backpackers? Or do we stay away and hope the Plitvice lake authorities and UNESCO get their act together?
But before we get into all that: what are the falling lakes? Basically, also known as “Plitvice Lakes,” the falling lakes are a series of 16 crystalline lakes and waterfalls that run down one of Croatia’s largest national parks.
The lakes’ limestone basin makes for calcium carbonate rich waters (and a malleable base) that moves and hardens over time, following the pattern of moss and water flow—which is how the chain-like barriers have been formed between pools.
At a glacial pace, the water flowing underneath then reclaims the limestone, breaking down the rock, and the lakes shift, or ‘fall’ steadily downhill.
As for the unbelievably azure water, this is thanks to the moss that gets fossilised into this particular rock. This algae blooms and releases gases (particularly in the summer months) which react with the water to create shades of electric blue and inviting green, where fish hang, as if suspended in glass.
But enough of the poetry: we have a problem on our hands.
Although other Croatian national parks currently have a limit of 10,000 people per day, this policy does not apply to Plitvice. This means that upwards of 1.3M+ visitors trundle through the Falling Lakes each year.
Even though officials have built bridges and walkways over the water to mitigate this, selfie-seeking visitors consistently wander off the wooden paths, sometimes into the water, which has led to various injuries, deaths, and significant damage to the ecosystem.
Cruelly, and in light of this, Plitvice Lakes National Park is allegedly at risk of losing its UNESCO status—which would make its park officials even less equipped to look after it than before.
“Park officials are considering a number of options because the recklessness and careless attitude of tourists caused harm to both the visitors and the park.”
The problem is also being exacerbated by the construction of vacation homes and clearing of land near the borders of the park. So before the place turns into a reservoir for coke cans instead of fish, get in quick because as long as you don’t wander off piste or buy a house, your tourism dollars could help save the Falling Lakes.