“Coral reefs represent some of the world’s most spectacular beauty spots, but they are also the foundation of marine life: without them many of the sea’s most exquisite species will not survive.”
– Sheherazade Goldsmith, English environmental activist and author
Zlarin is a small island of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, almost in the very centre of Croatian coast and near the mainland city of Šibenik. During wintertime, the island has a population of 284 people and from March to October its population grows substantially up to 1,500 people, and the island also has many tourists. By location and nature, Zlarin is a unique traditional paradise where cars are not allowed and where the Mediterranean way of life is nurtured and incorporated in its inhabitants.
Throughout history, Zlarinians were involved in agriculture, fishing and sailing. They had grown olives which is seen by abandoned olive groves dotted all over the island, but the real success of the island is connected to fishing and processing corals. The traditional skill of processing corals is also nurtured today.
The island is famous for its red corals. In the summer, when many tourists are on the island, one may witness a ceremony that is held for sailors who are going to the sea at night to find corals. Dalmatian songs are sung, and men and women are dressed in folk costumes typical of the area. The ceremony is held to wish luck to the sailors.
The first written documents of coral diving on the Adriatic date from 1412, and islanders from Zlarin are mentioned as the most famous coral divers. At first the corals were sold in Sicily, unprocessed. After the fall of Venetian Republic which for a long period of time was in charge of coral hunting, people from Zlarin got the exclusive right to dive for corals. This right lasted until the 1950s when the downfall of this business began due to poor results caused by overharvesting. However, the art of processing corals has been revived in a representative space where corals are also sold. the Zlarin Museum of Corals shows all stages of processing corals and sells coral souvenirs and jewellery.
At the moment, Bearing is finalising a feasibility study for a project to develop a unique Croatian Coral Centre. The beautiful corals can become one of key attraction points and motivation for coming to the Island of Zlarin for experts, naturalists, artists, students or general interest tourists. With targeted promotion campaigns, innovative and creative content connected to the development of scientific, diving and cultural tourism, the Island has a good chance to become recognizable among targeted centres in the international environment contributing to an additional boost of economic activities and education.
How natural heritage can be a driver of development
Natural heritage refers to the sum total of the elements of biodiversity, including flora and fauna and ecosystem types, together with associated geological structures and formations (geodiversity). Heritage is that which is inherited from past generations, maintained in the present, and bestowed to future generations.
The Croatian Coral Centre will serve as a gathering place for scientific coral divers, with spaces for training and workshops dedicated to all of those who are interested in corals and where the process of removing the corals from the sea, to the potential usage and also conservation of the marine wildlife would be presented.
While commercial or private removal of corals will be prohibited, the Centre will serve as a focal point to raise awareness of the natural beauty and necessity of the protection of this natural asset in order to ensure a healthy marine ecosystem.
The project ultimately aims to create adequate conditions for the development of high quality tourism to the Island of Zlarin, as well as the capacity to raise cultural offering of the local population to a higher level. The project also offers visitors a chance to explore Zlarin’s lifestyle, gastronomy, art supply and the likes. Existing, traditional buildings will be redeveloped to host the centre.
This project is a good example of how a unique resource and traditional know-how can be utilised to develop economic growth in a rural location. The World is full of places like Zlarin, with a historic past, where the opportunities of the place have not yet been utilised as they could. To balance and develop all the assets of a place and make it attractive in the global marketplace is an opportunity for growth and sustainable wealth creation, which enables investment in environmental preservation.