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The non-tidal Curonian lagoon is a shallow semi-locked and almost fresh-water body which is located on the southeastern rim of the Baltic Sea. It is the largest Baltic Sea lagoon (surface area 1,584 sq. km). The Nemunas river provides the main water inflow into the Curonian lagoon, which discharges to the Baltic Sea. July and August are the warmest months of the year with the main daily air temperature reaching +17ºC.

Politically, the Curonian lagoon region is divided in two parts: The northern one belongs to Lithuania and the southern part to Kaliningrad Oblast, which is the exclusive territory of Russian Federation.

Geographically, the Curonian lagoon and the adjacent region form a huge natural entity. The southeastern Baltic coastal accumulative plain includes three major parts: The Nemunas delta, the Curonian spit and the Sambian peninsula. The total area of this region is app. 4.000 sq. km.

The Curonian spit is famous for its 31 km long coastal ridge of 40-60 m high drifting barchans. In 2000 the entire Curonian spit has been included into the UNESCO World Heritage List as a cultural landscape of outstanding value. It is protected within the national parks of Kuriunerija (Lithuania) and Kurshskayakosa (Russia). The sandy marine beaches of the Curonian spit together with nice traditional resorts, mature pinewoods and the magnificent vistas over the drifting dunes and the Curonian lagoon form the most valuable tourism resource of the whole region. Thus making the Curonian lagoon a tourist destination of an international scale.

The Nemunas delta with a maze of river branches, canals, polders and wetlands is protected as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention and as a regional park. The Nemunas delta is important for the migrating and breeding birds, particularly, geese, ducks and waders. The long list of species, the high concentrations recorded highlights the unique international importance of the Nemunas delta for the development of eco-tourism.

Managment of sustainable tourism

The Department of Recreation and Tourism at Klaipeda University together with the EUCC Baltic Office are the leading institutions facilitating the sustainable tourism development in the Curonian lagoon area. The whole process started in 1993 when efforts aimed at fostering the sustainable development of Rusne island in the Nemunas delta got support from the EUCC - The Coastal Union and the promotion of sustainable tourism became one of the key priorities of the program.


The promotion of sustainable tourism development in the Curonian Lagoon area is supported mainly by the external aid sources provided by the European Commission within the PHARE and TACIS programs (PHARE Partnership, PHARE ACCESS, PHARE and TACIS Small Project Facility programs). Support obtained from the Royal Netherlands Embassy (MATRA KNIP program) and the Baltic American Partnership Program is also acknowledged gratefully.

The particular projects mentioned above were based on the farmers to farmers principle and focused on the development of the sustainable tourism development plan for the Curonian lagoon region, on the sustainable tourism demonstration programs in the Nemunas delta and on the Curonian spit (pictures). As a result several projects were established in the area: Rusne Rural Tourism Organization, Rusne Rural Tourism Information and Consultation Center, Water Tourism Center in Minge. Facilitation of sustainable tourism development was ensured through a variety of activities with local communities of Curonian spit and with administrations of national parks Kursiunerija(Lithuania) and Kurshskaja kosa (Russia)

Comments and theory

In both the Lithuanian and Russian parts of the Curonian lagoon region fishing and agriculture have maintained their leading roles in the local economy during the 1990s and early 2000s. The economic performance of these sectors and their capacity to provide a decent living for the local population has declined dramatically because of the emergence of the market economy and the change of mechanisms behind the production from a matter of central planning to local decisions affected by prices of resources needed and products manufactured.

Tourism is a new emerging opportunity for a truly sustainable and decent future of the region if its development is based on the key strengths of the Curonian lagoon region as an area with outstanding natural amenities.

The Curonian spit is by far the most suitable area for tourism development in the region, but its status as a national park appears to ensure a strong legal protection against large-scale developments outside the areas already developed. It seems very important to discuss whether the spit should be reserved mainly for low-scale exclusive tourism, affordable only to foreigners and rich locals, or whether there should also be facilities for locals with "normal" incomes. At present the trend seems to be the first.

From the rural, agro-, eco-, and water-tourism perspectives, the Nemunas delta is much more attractive than the Curonian spit. But whether the expected sustainable tourism development opportunities will be realized and remains open to questioning. The utilization of rich natural resources for sustainable tourism development in the Curonian lagoon region and its economic and social recovery will be possible only if the region bases its development on essential principles of sustainability.

Without deliberate positive actions quite a few events might have detrimental effects upon the tourism development and thereby on the social welfare and the long-term economic growth of the region. A particularly harmful situation might occur if the region lacks the proper attention and support from the central governments of Russia and Lithuania, because the bureaucracy can strangle local enterprising initiatives.

Efforts should be made to endorse tourism development in the Curonian lagoon region towards a sustainable use of local natural resources and maintenance of cultural heritage, facilitation of site-specific development of small-scale leisure facilities according to local peculiarities and carrying capacity of landscapes and ecosystems. This could increase the local knowledge on the sustainable use of natural resources through special training programs, the local 'centers of excellence' diverse programs of education and social integration for different target groups.


Exercise for user

What essential principles of sustainability should be followed in order to utilize rich natural resources for sustainable tourism development in the Curonian lagoon region?


Exercise for user

What priority actions might be particularly beneficial to the sustainable tourism development in the Curonian lagoon region?

Further information

Further information on sustainable tourism development in the Curonian lagoon region can be obtained from the following sources:

Department of Recreation and Tourism, Klaipeda University, H. Manto street, 84, KLAIPEDA, LT-5808, Lithuania, e-mail:, Lithuanian Tourism Fund, Ukmerges street, 20, VILNIUS, LT-2600, Lithuania.

Curonian lagoon web-based information system

Exercise for user

What are the key prerequisites for the successful implementation of the sustainable tourism development program in the Curonian lagoon region?

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