Istria: What is it, where is it,
and why should you care?
With the turquoise Adriatic Sea on its edges, verdant hills in its interior, and rich gastronomic offer throughout, Istria is best known as a top European tourist destination where people come to drink delicious wine, swim, rest, and be inspired by natural beauty. This 3600-sq-km peninsula is formally part of two countries — the northwest corner of Croatia and the southwestern bit of Slovenia. Splitting off from the European mainland just south of Trieste in Italy, Istria is a medley of numerous European cultures — a fusion which resonates through its architecture, its cuisine, and its languages and dialects.
Istria is, however, much more than a tourist destination. Its fragile Mediterranean environment and mild climate are ecologically significant not only because of their uniqueness, but also because of their key importance for various aspects of life. The bounties that the land and sea give forth underpin the local economy, sustain local communities, and provide habitat for countless plant and animal species, a number of which are endangered or endemic. Threats to Istria’s ecological integrity and biodiversity are therefore threats to its stability, and by extension threats to the humans and other species who are dependent on it for surviving and thriving.
There are unfortunately many threats to Istria’s environment and communities, and they seem to increase in number every year. These include the encroachment of big developers connected to the mass tourism industry; pollution of the land and watercourses; overfishing; poor natural resource management practices; government corruption; social injustice and economic inequality; climate change and sea-level rise connected to it; unsustainable contemporary lifestyle habits; the fossil fuel industry; and other issues.
A further degraded Istria would be a disaster for local people, but it would also have consequences for entire Mediterranean and beyond. In fact, the larger Mediterranean area of which Istria is a part has been declared by scientists to be especially vulnerable to climate change. Istria shares this challenge in common with its neighbors, but it is unique also because it has been less intensively developed historically than many other areas of the Mediterranean and therefore still has many natural features still intact and unexploited—features which were destroyed a long time ago in other places that are more densely populated and which have had longer histories of mass tourism, international trade, and deeper connections to big empires.
Istria’s development in the 21st century must therefore be undertaken with great care, to ensure the continued thriving of its communities and natural resources. Plans for its future should look to increasing its stability while protecting it from exploitation and leaving it in better condition for future generations of humans and other species.
Sustainability, ecological awareness, and community development on the delicately positioned Istrian peninsula need to be a top priority for local and international citizens and institutions. However, the Croatian government does not award these issues the importance they deserve, and civil society is under-supported in Istria and in Croatia generally. There are very few civil society organizations working to advocate for the best interests of citizens and the environment in the region. Green Istria, based in Pula, Croatia, is the only functional, independent civil society organization dedicated full time to the region, and working to exchange knowledge and share best practices internationally.
A robust civil society in Istria is critical for the region’s future including for the future of sustainable tourism itself. Green Istria has been working hard for 20+ years to be the civil society anchor that the region badly needs, even as the organization continually faces its own serious challenges due to financial and other external pressures.
To learn how you can support Green Istria’s work, click here.