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Vera Knook

Vera Knook

Turning river love into action with The River Collective
Searching for clean lines and clean rivers. Vera joined the first Balkan Rivers Tour for the kayaking action on Albania’s Vjosa River. She jumped on board with the Balkan River Defence team in late 2017 using her fresh degree in hydraulic engineering to get universities from all over Europe involved in research and fight for rivers.

Curently she is continuing this work with The River Collective.

* Dit artikel is mogelijk gemaakt door de steun van Challenge Fund – EU 4 Innovation

1.What is your favorite river in Albania?

De Valbona Rivier has a special place in my heart. Not only the kayaking is amazing, its full watershed is a place to wander and explore.
The mountains are rough and the forests pure. Traditions are alive and it’s amazing seeing the resilience and warm-heartedness of the people.
Scientists for Valbona Riverr - © Jürgen Karvak
Vera and SRC attenders in Valbona Valley - © Jürgen Karvak

2.What is River Collective?

De River Collective is a network of scientists, students, artists and River defenders that turn their knowledge into action for the protection of free-flowing and healthy rivers. We do this through organising events where people meet, exchange knowledge, and collaborate on new initiatives.

3.Why should we protect rivers?

Rivers have been at the heart of ecosystems since the existence of this planet. The speed that rivers have been and are being destroyed since the industrial revolution, is the result of a discourse that justifies large impacts on nature for continuous economic growth.

This economic growth often fades the importance of healthy, free-flowing rivers that support healthy ecosystems. Especially in times of rapid climate change, we need these rivers and their resilience to cope with extreme weather patterns as well as protect some of the most important habitats to sustain the biodiversity we have left.

In addition, I believe that protecting rivers almost always is an act for environmental and social justice.

4.Should rivers have rights?

I am excited to see the rights of rivers movement grow worldwide. It is a very interesting concept and helps us to change the narrative of river destruction towards river celebration, where we value and protect rivers as living entities. In which legal format this works best, I’m not sure, but see a lot of potential in this direction.

5.What actions can follow travelers for free-flowing rivers?

Choose destinations that are proud of their free-flowing rivers, but be aware that also mass tourism can kill an area. Choose agencies and companies that are actively involved in the protection of their watershed.

River Collective Team - © Jürgen Karvak
Rafting day, Valbona - © Jürgen Karvak

6.How do dams affect the river and its environment?

Dams change the flow of the river and the flow of sediments. Large dams fully alter the flow pattern by releasing water only when there is energy demand.

Due to the reservoir, sediment is captured behind the dam. Small ‘run of the river’ hydro projects do not necessarily alter the flow, but divert it, leaving the river bed (almost) dry for some kilometers, equally stopping the sediment flow.

These changes impact the shape of the river, which then impacts the habitats, which then impacts all organisms that live in these habitats, including humans. I can go into much more detail, but basically, a dam creates a snowball effect of negative impacts both upstream and downstream.

7.How do you see the future of Albanian tourism?

Albania is a beautiful and spectacular country with endless possibilities for the development of tourism. Some projects aimed at mass tourism, typically along the coast, show that tourism can easily go in worrying directions.

It is a challenge to develop tourism in a way that it is not another big threat to nature, but I believe that it is possible for sure and essential! The more people that have the opportunity to be in spectacular nature, the more people that fall in love with it and will want to protect it. And Albania is being noticed more and more and I believe that nature will remain one of its biggest selling points.

Packrafting ,Valbona River - © Jürgen Karvak
Raften with student at River Collective - © Jürgen Karvak

8.What would you say to a traveler who is thinking of visiting Albania?

Don’t think any longer, go for it! And make sure to take your time to fully enjoy the places, meet the people that are proud of their country and always accept a glass of Rakija!

9.How would you explain Albania to an international tourist?

Albania is a mysterious country. Since the stirring times after the fall of communism in ’90-’91, it has gone through large changes in politics and culture, making that you can spend months and months and keep being surprised about the strong characters of the people.

Nature is diverse, sometimes rough, sometimes idyllic. It is a country to wander and be amazed, day in day out.

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