Lastovo Nature Park

© Claudia Amico / WWF Mediterranean
©: Claudia Amico / WWF Mediterranean

A talk with Jelena

It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it! Adventures of a marine park ranger

Some people are able to live and breathe a Marine Protected Area at all times. These are the park’s guardian angels, better known as… rangers! We asked Jelena Matokovic to guide us through a typical day in the fabulous Lastovo Islands Nature Park in Croatia, talking with local people and tourists and revealing her favorite things about this marine beauty.

© Vrhovnjaci

Can you recall your first visit to the MPA and what your initial feelings and impressions were?
Well, I visited Lastovo island before it was declared a Nature Park and I remember thinking that I had never seen such an intense combination of deep blue sea and thick forests seamlessly merging at the surface of the water... One can immediately sense that it is something special. With its natural beauty, resources and cultural heritage you need no more than a day to begin to understand the huge potential that this place holds.

Could you explain the duties and activities of your role as MPA Head Ranger?
I lead and coordinate the surveillance service of the Park in our daily duties, basically implementing provisions of the Nature Protection Law and the Institution’s Internal Rule book. Together with rangers I make sure that we carry out a wide range of activities of benefit to the local community and visitors to the Park: promotion, information, maintenance of the walking and cycling paths, visitors’ safety, emergency response, fire fighting and many other things.

© Claudia Amico / WWF Mediterranean
© Claudia Amico / WWF Mediterranean
  • What else do you do directly or indirectly for this MPA?
    Since our Institution has just 8 employees and I started my career here in the Conservation Service department, I now closely cooperate and basically lead both Services and together with rangers I am responsible for the successful implementation of research and for monitoring flora and fauna, both on land and at sea. I am also responsible for the implementation of almost all the projects of the Institution, many of which include the local community. I work closely with local people and consider this a very important part of my job.

    Given that Lastovo is the most recent of the National and Nature Parks and MPAs in Croatia, which lessons, tips or support did you draw from the others?
    We were lucky enough to be part of the international project MedPAN South led by WWF and to create a Management Plan for our Institution just 2-3 years after the announcement of the Park. So we immediately had a project team around us, a group of people who were full of understanding, willingness to help us and lead us, showing us the “secrets” of the job. Through the MedPAN network we also met our colleagues from other protected areas in Croatia, and we are all still in touch, especially those from the Croatian MPAs. And since we are also collaborating on the new SEA-Med project, now it feels like we’re a family!
    I must say that the most valuable lesson I have learned is to be open, to communicate on a daily basis with the Park’s local community, keeping them informed on what our plans are, all we are doing and including them in our activities. You see, this is especially important for Lastovo Islands MPA given that the Municipality of Lastovo has the same borders as the protected area… which means that people live in the Park!

© Ivana Carev / SUNCE

What do you like the most about dealing with tourists and locals?
I like the opportunity to be useful and change something for the better. Besides when I can help a tourist or somebody local with even one piece of information that is crucial to them at that moment in time, that just makes my day!

What questions do they ask you the most and which ones do you wish they’d ask more?
Well, usually it’s about some sightseeing, interesting paths, or fauna and flora of the islands – but, in a few years time, what I would truly like them to  ask me is where our visitor center is sited, which would mean that by that time we finally have one and I have completed my dearest project!

What are your favourite things about this MPA?
One of my favorite things about the Lastovo Islands Park is its flora and fauna: the amount of "life" present here is just incredible! It’s such a remote area and yet somehow it lacks nothing – indeed it has everything. Working and living here gives me the opportunity to be a part of it but it’s difficult for me to pick out just a few things.
I am always the happiest when I get to monitor the rich birdlife of the islands.  Some of the birds I’ve never seen before…and you can spot them on daily basis here, by looking up in the sky or just listening. I should also mention the island of Sušac, my favorite one in the whole Park – but you must come and see it to understand… I can’t reveal its magic!

Can you tell us of a funny or charming episode or encounter, either with people or animals, during your time spent at the MPA? 
Well, in my opinion, people are definitely funnier… and the most charming are those who come to Lastovo by kayak… all the way from Italy!

If you could suggest something for next year’s 10th anniversary celebrations of the MPA, what would it be?   
My first wish is that in a year’s time the number of employees will have increased from the current 8 to 10. Then I hope we will be presenting the new fisheries regulation, a huge task we are dealing with right now. Last but not least… cutting the ribbon on the start of construction of Lastovo’s visitors center …and then we can go and party!

© Claudia Amico / WWF Mediterranean