Canal threatens biodiversity in Poland

Construction work on the Vistula Lagoon canal in Poland began in November, after the environmental authority gave it the go ahead. But the 800 million euro project is situated on a protected area and environmental groups warn it will affect biodiversity.

The construction of the canal has been the subject of much political back and forth for many years. Ekoagora, a network of environmental groups, is working to protect the area, which is designated under the EU’s network of protected sites, Natura 2000.

On its website, the network details the steps that led to the approval of the construction. In 2011, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out by PROEKO. An EIA is an assessment of how a project will impact the environment. At the time, the company recommended abandoning the project because of the foreseen negative effects.

The canal will create a connection with the Baltic Sea. The new canal will be around 1,300 metres long and 5 metres deep and will be navigable by ships up to 100 metres long and 20 metres wide.

In a position paper, Ekoagora denounced the construction’s impact on the Natura 2000 area.

Natura 2000 areas are designated under EU nature protection laws to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Nature-damaging activities are supposed to be restricted on these sites.

According to Natura 2000 documentation, three organisations are in charge of the project in Poland Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Olsztyn, Urząd Morski w Gdyni and Regionalna Dyrekcja Ochrony Środowiska w Gdańsku. However, no management plan has been developed.

The Directorate for Environmental Protection in Olsztyn gave its go ahead for the canal construction.

But environmental groups have listed their concerns and highlighted four legislative gaps when it comes to the construction:

  1. NGO Non-compliance with the Water Framework Directive
  2. Non-compliance with the nature conservation regulations for Natura 2000 sites
  3. Non-compliance with the Resolution of the Pomorskie Regional Assembly of 2011
  4. Non-compliance with the nature protection regulations of the Elbląg Bay reserve

Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki declared that the project was crucial for Elblag as the canal would benefit the region’s economy.

The newspaper Polandin reported that Morawiecki said: “We promised to dig through the Vistula Spit, and we will dig through it.”