The largest lake in the Balkans

Skadar Lake National Park, Montenegro

Willows in Skadar National Park


The Skadar Lake covers the area of 391 km² and is the biggest lake of the Balkans. It is located in the Zeta-Skadar valley, it connects to the Adriatic Sea, through the river Bojana, and is surrounded by high mountains. Two thirds of the lake belong to Montenegro, while one third belongs to Albania. The Montenegrin part was proclaimed a National Park in 1983, and in 1996 it was added to the World list of wetlands of the Ramsar Convention. The lake is exposed to crypto depression, which means that most of it is lower than the sea level. The shores are rich in small bays, islands and half-islands, rich in vegetation. The lake dates back to 1856. Before that there were three smaller lakes: Skadar Mud, Big and Small Mud. The River Moraca flew through the valley directly into river Bojana and then into the sea. In 1856, two rivers (Orahovštica and Crmnička) collided and formed a vortex. The village of Vir was built at its center. The vortex formed the Virovišticu river that flowed into the Moraca. That year, the river Drim brought in a lot of sediment, which closed the flow of the river Bojana and the valley filled up with water. Vir became a central place for commerce and grew to become today’s Virpazar. Even today, the Skadar Lake has big changes of water level: in one rainy day the lake can raise by a meter. The real spectacle is during the summer, when in the middle of the lake flow of river Karatuna you can see vegetation which is not visible during the winter due to the lake level. Another interesting area of the lake is the small island Grmozur, which is an old fortress which used to be a prison. Today, the fortress is full of different types of lizards and birds and access to the island is forbidden. There are many other islands on Skadar lake each with either a fortress or a church and endemic lizards. In 1896, due to heavy rainfall which lasted 45 days, there was a major landslide in the village Limljani, resulting in the disappearance of the entire village, except for the church of St. Toma, which was on the line of the landslides. The church, together with its bell tower, cemetery and a fence, slid 100 meters and rotated along with the rock on which it was built, taking the direction northeast-southwest, with a slope of 40 percent. The church itself was undamaged. Local citizens have not yet decided whether or not to return the church to the original position.

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Flora and Fauna

Large areas of the park are wetlands with floating plants, white and yellow water lilies, kasaronja, and reeds and rushes, which are an ideal habitat for many species of bird and fish. Endangered plant species grow on the Skadar Lake, as well as Fritilaria gracilis, Crocus dalmaticus, Edraianthus tenuifolius, Ramondia Serbica. According to the latest research and studies, Skadar Lake has 930 species of algae. The lake area is forested with an oak forest, bitter oak forest and white willow forests. Typical of the area is the community of Stipe salvietum. Willows spreading on water-flooded courts create more woods and forests.

The Skadar lake changes its water two to three times a year, with the river Bojana going out to the sea. From the sea into the lake come different species of fish. The levels of the lake can be sometimes 60m lower than sea-level and it is therefore an ideal place for breeding, and with the average summer water temperature of 22 ° C and winter temperature almost never below 11 degrees, the lake is an ideal place for fish. The main fish are of the carp family (Cyprinidae), such as carp - Cyprinus carpio, bleak - Alburnus Alburnus, and a small endemic šaradan - Pachychilon pictum. Because of the large number of underwater springs, the lake also allows for salmonid fish: trout - Salmo trutta m. fario, lettuce - Salmo marmoratus, strings - Salmo farioides, and rainbow trout. With the proximity of the Adriatic Sea and its connections via the River Bojana, marine fish such as latch Mugil cephalus and M. ramada, Kubla - Alosa fallax nilotica, eel - Anguilla Anguilla can be found in the lake. Because a lot of fish, especially carp and bleak, live only inside these lake parts, the National Park has forbidden fishing during the breeding period. These areas are specially protected by the service of protection of the National Park. In the past, the demand for fish was very high which often caused conflict between the protection service and fishermen. Fish hide during the summer around the white and yellow water lily, and below the floating leaves of kasaronja (Trapa natans L). This type of floating leaves is edible, and its fruit is used by the locals. During the famine period in the 19th century, all fields of vegetables were destroyed and citizens survived feeding on the fruit of the kasaronja.

Thanks to the preservation of its ecosystems, the Skadar Lake has 280 bird species some of which are on the list of endangered species, such as the dalmation pelican and the black ibis, small white storks and the gray stork, the only species known to nest in laurel. Seventy three species are nest migrant species, 18 conventional migrants, 45 are winter visitors and 12 species spend the summer at the lake. An ornithological center is under construction in the area and the lake contains a number of towers and platforms built specifically for watching birds, located in the 5 biggest ornithological reserves: Manastirska tapija, Pancevo oko, Grmozur, Omar Gorica and Crni Žar. On the water-lily you can often see numerous egrets resting. Birds enjoy the lake because of its rich vegetation, but also for its safety as the National Park has forbidden any type of bird hunting within its boundaries.

The Skadar Lake is an important habitat for aquatic invertebrates. The most numerous are Rotatoria, Cladocera, Copepoda, Protozoa, Copepoda and Cladocera, the European freshwater crab - Telephus fluviatilis and shrimp - Palaemontes antennarius. Mollusc fauna is poor in diversity but rich in quantity, especially freshwater mussels and numerous aquatic snail populations, of which five are endemic. Aquatic insects are numerous and diverse: the most common are Trihoptere, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Diptera. Terrestrial invertebrate fauna is represented by a large number of insects, among which there are lots of Mediterranean endemics (protected species): forest ant - Formica rufa, Swallowtail - Papilio machaon, Mediterranean Swallowtail - Papilio alexanor and Swallowtail - Papilio podalirius, stag beetle - Lucanus corvus and nosorožac - Oryctos nasicornis.

Reptiles are also numerous, including snakes, marsh turtles, and Ophis aurus apodus lizards. Of particular interst is the amount of endemic lizards on the islands. The lake area contains the Skadar endangered green frog and many other amphibians such as high toad - Bufo bufo, Green Toadd - Bufo viridis, tree frog - Hyla arborea and common newts - Trituris vulgaris. The forested area is inhabited by ordinary or colorful salamander - Salamandra salamandra.

The region is inhabited by about 50 species of mammals, including the water otter - Lutra lutra, which is protected by law. Other mammals belong to the terrestrial ecosystems, especially the forested areas, foxes, hares, numerous wild boar, squirrel, doormice, hedgehogs and moles. There is also the rare endemic Dinaric mouse and seven species of bats all endangered on a global level and protected by law.


One of the main problems in the park is the fact that the local population has very little awareness of nature conservation and environmental protection and sees the park as taking their land away. The conflicts relate to fishing, bird conservation and habitat conservation. To address these issues, the park engages the local population in various activities. The Skadar Lake National Park promotes sustainable tourism in the park, helping local entrepreneurs with the production of brochures, promotion of their tourism products as well as lake cruises, birdwatching, and cooking. This year, its Green Managament Program was introduced to the local population. This program is an innovation in the region: it is addressed to boat owners, as well as restaurant and wine producers, encouraging them to perform their jobs in an environmentally-sound manner, while suggesting various measures to reduce energy, emissions, recycling and so on. Once an entrepreneur accepts the offered measures he or she receives benefits from the park, as well as the opportunity to participate in various projects.

Work area: 
Protected Areas
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