BRT 5 | 2021

Five years, five tours. Balkan Rivers Tour 5 was meant to be a bit different. Our plan – before we lost our freedom of movement and choice –  was to paddle the entire length (1000 km) of the Sava River, from Slovenia to Serbia, organise a bunch of interesting events along the way and finish this 40 day voyage with a big protest in support of all Balkan rivers in Belgrade, Serbia, where Sava flows into Danube.

Well, despite the change in plan, this smaller tour proved to be a very cool one and also effective. We paddled the entire Sava River in Slovenia (258 km) and brought a professional media crew with us to produce a full-length feature documentary film that will show the Sava River and the uncertain future it is facing. This way we will be able to share this stunning river with even more people than the river side events could bring together and hopefully create an even bigger momentum for the protection of it.

The crew of 4 kayakers embarked on an 11-day mission to paddle both forks of the Sava, starting on the International Sava River Day, June 1st.

We kayaked around 30 km each day, and the kayakers were followed by videographers and photographers who captured the most interesting moments of the descent so we can later bring thousands of people along for the ride  – from their comfortable sofas into kayaks in the middle of rapids and reservoirs.

Follow each day of BRT5 here.

This Balkan Rivers Tour wasn’t just about kayaking and exploring the Sava River with our senses, it was also (and above all), the vessel for some serious research.

Until now, there was no solid data about the presence and abundance of fish species in the entire 258 km stretch of the Sava in Slovenia. Without this data, it is hard to objectively talk about how the already present Sava dams affect fish distribution in the broader context of the river. Numbers and graphs are the language everyone understands and they can be an important piece in the puzzle of river conservation.

All the way from the Sava’s dual sources in Podkoren and Bohinj, untill border with Croatia, our crew was filtering water under a sampling strict protocol in order to catch little particles of skin, excretions and other loose cells of organisms that live in the Sava. We have teamed up with a stacked team of experts who trained us to make sure we are consistent with the method of sampling and now, with all the samples collected, they can start the grueling process of sequencing and isolating the DNA of species in question.

In other words; by the end of this year, we should be able to tell how far downstream Danube Salmon can be found in the Sava, how far upstream the migratory Cactus Roach can reach and especially get a picture about the fish diversity in the last free flowing section of the Sava between Tacen and Zidani Most, which is planned to be destroyed by 10 new HPP dams.

Thanks to Shoal Conservation for supporting this study and big thanks to the researchers that will deal with transparent liquids in laboratories in months to come. It was sure interesting to sample all those locations and we excitedly await to share our findings.

With two ornithologists in the crew, it’s wise to put their knowledge to use somehow. Regardless of formal research, they are always excited for every bird they see but if we put all of these sightings in a little field notebook, then we have a big set of data, which can tell a lot about the river in question and what it means to our feathered friends.

Since our river in question was the entire length of Sava in Slovenia, what came out was something never done before – a complete census of water birds along the continuous 258 km of river, during the nesting season. Rok started counting water birds on Sava Dolinka and Bor on Sava Bohinjka and then together along the entire Sava. The undertaking was big and broad, but with the help of the other two kayakers, Branko and Carmen (who were learning about water bird species, their habitat demands, behavior and other tricks of the trade), the youngest and the most confused member of our crew managed to produce an amazing set of data, that will now become a great base for the understanding of how the state of the river results in the abundance and diversity of bird species. The data is comprised of more than 1.000 inputs which will enable researchers to analyze them and get an insight into what kind of birds and how many of them appear at the wild upper part of the river, modified stretches, reservoirs, gravel bars and canyon parts.

Kayak again proved to be an amazing tool, if used by curious people willing to find out more about places they visit. Herons, mergansers, kingfishers, dippers, cormorants, plovers and wagtails, it was great fun sharing the river with you!

BRT5 was by far the slowest, smallest and shortest tour we have done. But we are ok with that. The size of the tour may have minimized, the effectiveness definitely did not. By mid 2022 we will have a 52-minute documentary circulating international film festivals, a report on nesting waterfowl of the entire Slovenian Sava, and a stack of data in scientific journals based on the cutting-edge eDNA research. And all of this is going to act as one big explosion of awareness and data help stop the construction of dams on the Sava in Slovenia. And keep her as beautiful and as wild as we experienced her.

Short videos produced in cooperation with NRS:

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