Country Profiles

Croatia - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The Republic of Croatia has a great wealth of biological and landscape diversity, and a very high level of conservation, particularly within the context of Western and Central Europe. Nevertheless, a trend of loss of biological and landscape diversity persists in the country. Located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia can be divided into 16 distinct landscape units, which include features such as karst fields and rivers, mountain chains and limestone plateaus. Forests cover 44% of the country’s land surface, of which 37% comprises high forests and the remainder different degrees of degraded forest vegetation. Approximately 95% of forest vegetation exists in a state of natural composition, which is rare and extremely valuable at both European and global levels. Seventy-eight percent of forest vegetation is state-owned.

Covering 54% of the country, the karst area is unique because it runs along the entire Adriatic coast and also extends into the continental region. Wetlands have the highest level of biological and landscape diversity and are the most threatened of Croatia’s ecosystems. Meadows of marine sea grass (Posidona oceanica) are common along the Croatian coast, and are considered among the most representative and important Mediterranean coastal ecosystems because they are primary producers where many organisms feed or in which they reproduce or find shelter.

The number of known taxa (species and subspecies) in Croatia is almost 40,000, although it is suspected that the total number of species is considerably higher (between 50,000 to more than 100,000). During the last five-year period, more than 200 new species of land invertebrates, around 220 species of freshwater invertebrates and around 20 species of marine invertebrates have been registered and more than 10 new species of freshwater fish have been described. About 3% of the total number of known taxa are endemic. The largest share of endemics (~70%) certainly is among Croatian cave fauna, one of the nation’s greatest and most interesting natural peculiarities.

There are almost 3,000 species from 16 different taxonomic groups assessed within Croatian Red List, out of which more than 45% of taxa are threatened. Within the assessed taxonomic groups, the largest share of threatened species are freshwater fishes (~42%), cave fauna (~37%) and snails (~25%). Willow shrubs found near large continental rivers and galleries of oleander in southern Dalmatia are among the endangered and rare shrub habitats in Croatia.

Tourism is one of the most significant movers of economic development in Croatia at present. In the last ten years, tourism has enabled the creation of significant financial revenues, revitalization of many rural areas and the promotion of protected areas, especially national and nature parks. The National Tourism Development Strategy recognizes that Croatia owns exceptionally diversified and preserved natural tourist potential which has to be managed sustainably in order to contribute to the development of tourism over the long term. The Strategy also underlines the need to, at the same time, ensure the long-term conservation of natural values in protected areas.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Loss of biological and landscape diversity is mainly caused by habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from agricultural activities and infrastructure development, invasive alien species, pollution, urbanization and climate change. Accelerated urbanization and settlement expansion along the Adriatic coast are having a negative effect on landscape diversity.

The main forces threatening mammals are habitat degradation and fragmentation, poaching and pesticide use. Potential threats to large carnivores from highway construction have been reduced through the construction of green bridges, serving as animal corridors. Approximately 62% of all threats to vascular flora in Croatia are related to the loss or degradation of habitat resulting from anthropogenic influences.

Forests are threatened mainly by pollution, inappropriate water management, transportation and other infrastructure, conversion of forest into agricultural land and for infrastructure construction, deforestation, fragmentation, forest fires and uncontrolled cutting in private forests. All types of grassland are endangered as a result of abandonment of extensive agriculture. Wet habitats, such as peat bogs, are particularly threatened.

Some of the largest threats to biodiversity in marine and coastal ecosystems are the combined activities of high anthropogenic pressure (including the high level of exploitation of marine natural resources), degradation and loss of habitats, invasive species, excessive fishing, trawling, the absence of no-take zones and ineffective supervision. The major threats to freshwater ecosystems include the construction of hydroelectric power plants, accumulations, construction of drainage channels for irrigation, stocking by alien species and introduction and translocation of invasive alien species, as well as pollution.

Pressure from the development of tourism infrastructure is a major threat in coastal areas. Caves in tidal areas are threatened by pollution, creation of coastal embankments and by swimmers’ activities. Submarine springs are threatened by pollution, backfilling of the coastal area and construction along the coast. In particular, karst estuaries are highly exposed to anthropogenic activities and threatened by coastal filling, pollution and intensive exploitation. Saltwater lakes are rare and endangered by illegal sewage disposal, waste, invasive species and an excess of visitors. Coralligenous communities are threatened by pollution and excessive fishing and, as a result, species such as lobsters and groupers have become extremely rare. Damage from anchors and trawling also damages these ecosystems as does intensive diving activities. Meadows of marine sea grass ecosystems are threatened by the anchoring of vessels, trawling, pollution, shading and invasive species such as green algae (Caulerpa).

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The first National Strategy and Action Plan for the Protection of Biological and Landscape Diversity of Croatia was adopted in 1999, and the second in 2008. The current strategy and action plan includes seven general strategic objectives: (1) conserve overall biological, landscape and geological diversity as an underlying value and potential for further development of the Republic of Croatia; (2) meet all obligations arising from the process of integration into the European Union and alignment of the national legislation with the relevant EU directives and regulations (Habitats Directive, Birds Directive, CITES Regulations); (3) fulfil the obligations arising from international treaties in the field of nature protection, biosafety, access to information, etc.; (4) ensure integral nature protection through cooperation with other sectors; (5) establish and evaluate the state of the biological, landscape and geological diversity, set up a nature protection information system with a database connected to the state’s information system; (6) encourage promotion of institutional and non-institutional ways to educate the public about biodiversity, and improve public participation in decision-making processes; and (7) develop legislation implementation mechanisms by strengthening legislative and institutional capacities, education, development of scientific resources, information, and the development of funding mechanisms. Action plans for implementing these objectives are associated with a competent authority, potential implementing authorities, urgency, possible funding sources, as well as correlated with other actions.

Croatia intends to complete, by 2014, a comparative analysis of its targets vis-à-vis the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, and to further update the National Strategy and Action Plan for the Protection of Biological and Landscape Diversity in accordance with these findings.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Important progress has been made in relation to inventorying and evaluating biological and landscape diversity, developing legislative and institutional frameworks, and improving the system for protecting natural values and managing resources.

The establishment of an ecological network in Croatia is prescribed by the Nature Protection Act (OG 80/2013), which identifies such a network as a system of interconnected or spatially close ecologically significant areas, which, by their well-balanced biogeographical distribution, contribute to conservation of biodiversity. Activities undertaken in this regard have resulted in significant improvements in the overall system for biodiversity protection and conservation in Croatia. Achievements include the creation of 33 new protected areas (comprising 11.59% of the national territory), adoption of management plans for 4 national parks and 1 nature park as well as the proclamation of the Natura 2000 network by the Regulation on the Ecological Network (OG 124/13), covering 36.67% of Croatian land territory and 16.39% of its sea territory.

In addition to having established a systematic process for inventorying biological diversity, Croatia has created basic habitat maps for the national territory, and successfully implemented a large number of international projects through various funds, including EU funds.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Priorities over the last five-year period were tightly associated with the process of acceding to the European Union which occurred in July 2013. In nature protection, this meant harmonizing legislation, including establishing effective enforcement mechanisms, and adopting the proposal for the EU’s Natura 2000 network. The final list of Natura 2000 sites was adopted in September 2013 by the Government, and contains over 700 proposed sites of community importance (pSCIs) (of which 174 sites are caves) and 38 special protected areas (SPAs). Altogether, they cover over a third of the country and around a sixth of the territorial sea, putting Croatia at the top of the league table, along with Slovenia and Bulgaria, in terms of percentage of territory included in Natura 2000.

Between 2000 and 2008, several activities were undertaken to integrate biodiversity conservation into relevant sectors at international, national, regional and local levels. This particularly related to accession to the majority of international environmental agreements and, in particular, integration into regional biodiversity conservation systems. In total, 16 conventions, protocols and agreements in the field of nature protection have been ratified or implemented by Croatia. The country also participated in developing a Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy, which expanded the scope of the Convention on Biological Diversity to landscapes.

Administrative strengthening at all levels has occurred. The Nature Protection Directorate was established in 2000 and today is a part of the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection. In 2002, the State Institute for Nature Protection was set up as a central institute to deal with expert tasks on nature conservation in Croatia. In addition, public institutions for the management of protected natural values were established at the county level. Croatia has also established a national legislative framework in the field of nature protection (including the Act on Genetically Modified Organisms) that is compliant with EU legislation. A legislative framework for mainstreaming biodiversity into different policies and sectoral documents (e.g. spatial planning, forestry, hunting, agriculture, fishery) is in place and being implemented, and will be further enhanced with the incorporation of the requirements of the Habitats and Birds Directives into other sectors. General and special provisions and measures in the Nature Protection Act (OG 80/2013) anticipate further activities related to integrating the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity into other sectors.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Created in 2002, the State Institute for Nature Protection is authorized to coordinate inventorying and biodiversity monitoring. Within this framework, the Institute collects, processes and compiles data on the state of nature, drafts reports, maintains databases and prepares expert bases for the protection of individual components of biological and landscape diversity (Habitats distribution map, Natura 2000, Cro Fauna, Cro Speleo and Cro Habitats databases), which will be consolidated into a comprehensive Nature Protection Information System (NPIS). The obligation to create such a system is laid down in the Nature Protection Act (Art. 196) by which the Institute establishes and maintains the NPIS, in compliance with internationally accepted standards and obligations. Work has been carried out to enhance the NPIS by providing it with means to publicly disseminate data maintained within its components, and to upgrade components to be functional with the Croatian National Spatial Data Infrastructure and EU INSPIRE regulations.

The completion of Croatia’s red data lists and books serves as a first step towards standardizing data collection and establishing systematic monitoring protocols.