TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgia has decided to open a national park for commercial activity.

The area lies in Georgia’s western part near the Black Sea. Kolkheti National Park had status as a protected area, but part of the park will be exempted from its protected status to allow for commercial use, following a proposal the government has initiated in parliament.

Kolkheti National Park covers an area of approximately 44 313 hectares. It has status as a protected area by law, in compliance with the second category of protected areas of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The legal basis for such areas is both the Georgian constitution as well as the convention on biodiversity and other agreements which Georgia has signed.

But the government decided to separate part of the park from its protected status, a part which has multi-use status, an area covering about 842.4 hectares.

Gia Khuroshvili, the government’s parliamentary secretary, tells DF Watch that the purpose of the proposal is to allow economic activity in this area, and this will be more profitable for population.

According to current legislation, which is based on international conventions, it is prohibited to have economic activity on a protected area, including a multi-use area. It is allowed to have residential dwellings on a multi-use area and the necessary infrastructure for tourism, but it is prohibited to build and operate plants and factories there.

Environmentalists see the decision in connection with President Mikheil Saakashvili’s plans to build a new city called Lazika on the shores of the Black Sea, and this is completely unacceptable to them.

Talks on this issue started when Saakashvili first mentioned his plans to build Lazika. It was clear then that construction a city with half a million people would harm Kolkheti’s protected area, but the government claims that this is not the case.

Environmental groups say that this decision is unacceptable.

“Shrinking the territory of Kolkheti National park is a violation of certain obligations which Georgia has. Ramsar territory is larger than Kolkheti National Park, and accordingly, there will be problems and it’s hard for me to comment. But I will clearly say that it’s not normal to reduce national parks,” Nino Chkhobadze, co-chair of Georgia’s Green Movement says.

It should be noted that Kolkheti lowland achieved attention in 1996, when Georgia joined the Ramsar convention, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

“This decision will destroy biodiversity on that location. This of course contradicts international conventions. The argument that this territory is of multi-use status and it’s allowed to do this, is categorically unacceptable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have needed to amend the law, so this is rhetoric from the government and nothing more. The prior problem is that unique nature will be destroyed by this decision,” Lasha Chkhartishvili, co-chair of Greenpeace supporting groups says. He hopes that international environment organizations will respond to what is happening.