Location and Values: The Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region straddles the border between Albania and North Macedonia. It is listed as a mixed site, satisfying both natural and cultural criteria. From a natural heritage perspective the site’s outstanding values relate to Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world which is considered to be a ‘natural museum’ of freshwater organisms from the Tertiary period, whose close relatives exist only as fossils. There are very few lakes in the world with such ancient, tectonic origins (Lakes Baikal and Tanganyika being the best known examples elsewhere).
Despite its relatively small area, Lake Ohrid is 289m deep, and half its inflowing waters come from very pure underground springs linked to Lake Prespa to the east. The inflow volume is low compared with the huge volume of water contained in this deep lake basin, so turnover takes 60-70 years. The Lake’s biodiversity is exceptional in that a very high proportion of its invertebrate animal species is endemic, including 90% of snails, 66% of small crabs, and the unusual Lake Ohrid sponge. Ten of the Lake’s 17 fish species (60%) are also found nowhere else in the world. This unusual lake system, with its rich endemic flora and fauna therefore qualifies for world heritage status, even if the diversity and scale of its attributes are less significant than some other similar ancient lakes.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017) the conservation status of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region is of ‘significant concern’. The IUCN report notes that the natural values of the site are under pressure from various factors, including lakeshore infrastructure developments, tourism, and poor management of solid waste and wastewater. The report notes that the hydrological balance of the lake has been upset through discharge of the lake’s water into the Black Drin river (to ensure the operation of a downstream hydroelectric scheme). Further threats to the world heritage values of the lake arise from invasive alien species, eutrophication of the lake’s waters from agricultural runoff and the re-introduction of commercial fishing (after a seven-year moratorium). Furthermore, the IUCN report emphasizes the need for extension of the site to cover the entire lake (including a third of the lake that lies in Albanian territory) as well as ensuring more rigorous planning and application of environmental standards in the development of new roads and other infrastructure.
UNESCO Official Website
IUCN Conservation Outlook
UNEP-WCMC Site Description