bg en

EmpowerUs Experiences in the Field

Jun 22, 2023
EmpowerUs is a European scientific consortium made up of 16 partners in 9 countries with the aim of exploring what governance, social and natural mechanisms can support coastal communities in Europe to address their most pressing challenges.

Burgas and Lake Atanasovsko is one of the six coastal labs (Transitional coastal labs – TCLs) in Europe, where socially committed and nature-based solutions for sustainable development of the coast are sought. The other model territories are located in Norway, Finland, Ireland, Cyprus and Spain.

Existing Coastal Challenges

Through extensive interviews and Q-sorts, the team identified several complex and interconnected challenges affecting the Burgas region including:

  • Climate change, leading to increased vulnerability to extreme weather events, such as storms and floods,
  • Urbanisation pressures on local environments due to the growing tourism industry,
  • Lack of sufficient local employment and entrepreneurship,
  • Potential loss of salt production, leading to loss of biodiversity, cultural heritage, green/blue services and an aesthetic draw to the city.
Proposed Local Solutions 

During interviews, participants identified various solutions they wanted to see in response to the challenges mentioned above. One particular solution that regularly arose was better integration of Burgas’ natural environment into the coastline’s development. Participants proposed the need to move away from an extractivist model of constructing more and more hotels, which places further pressure on natural ecosystems, and instead draw in more sustainable models of tourism, including ecotourism and health tourism as examples. Other solutions that were proposed by participants during fieldwork included enhanced citizen involvement in local decision-making processes and small-scale entrepreneurship initiatives to empower citizens and ensure the coastline’s sustainable development.

The months of fieldwork have coincided with ongoing political instability in Bulgaria, with April marking the fifth national election in two years. Many participants spoke about the uncertainty this caused for their long-term planning, both at the institutional level and among the community. The political instability has contributed to feelings of distrust for institutions and the political system, making it difficult for locals to imagine the proposed solutions coming to fruition. Political instability has also elevated the importance of nongovernmental organizations in the context of Burgas and Bulgaria.

Insights from the Participatory Future Scenario Workshop

To engage further with local stakeholders and learn more about the challenges in Burgas, the TCL team organised a Participatory Future Scenario Workshop in June 2023. The workshop saw active participation from stakeholders across various sectors, including national government (including a member of Parliament), regional institutions, the Municipality of Burgas, academia, NGOs, and local businesses and entrepreneurs. The workshop was very engaging and there was a very good representation of different stakeholders in attendance. The TCL team were proud of the active involvement of all participants in the working groups where everyone had the opportunity to share ideas.

The key coastal challenges that came up during the workshop included:

  • Political instability,
  • Lack of strategies and plans,
  • Investor interests lead in determining the outcome of environmental impact assessments and planning,
  • Climate change and adaptation,
  • Impacts and pressures on the environment,
  • Infrastructure and urbanization pressure,
  • Risk of loss of salt production in the Atanasovsko Lake,
  • Lack of scientific data to be used as the basis for management decisions and the preparation of models and forecasts.

Solutions proposed at the workshop included:

  • Taking coastal dynamics further into account when developing strategies and plans, regulating development and limiting the development of new areas with important ecosystems and species,
  • Incorporating nature-based solutions and green and blue infrastructure into the area (e.g. green corridors to increase lake connectivity),
  • Optimisation of water pollution monitoring and improvement of technological purification,
  • Enhancing citizen involvement in planning processes through the creation of an “active core” group of experts, volunteers and municipal representatives.
Future Plans

Over the upcoming months, the TCL team in Bulgaria is excited to continue their fieldwork and arrange follow-up discussions and meetings with local stakeholders in the community. One of their main goals is to widen the existing network of stakeholders and work on better citizen engagement in Burgas to ensure that the process is inclusive and just. The TCL team will also shortly start planning for the next EmpowerUs workshop, where stakeholders will be engaged further to inform the design of the pilot for the local community.