Landmark decision reached to provide legal protection for Croatia’s Mrežnica and Tounjčica Rivers

Decision marks a significant milestone in the United for Rivers campaign to protect over 400 kilometres of rivers throughout the Western Balkans

A kayaker explores the rapids of Croatia's Mrežnica River
Kayaking the Mreznica A kayaking guide navigates down a small waterfall on the Mreznica river near Keici in Croatia. © Ciril Jazbec

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In a groundbreaking decision, the Karlovac County Assembly has officially confirmed the protection of the Mrežnica and Tounjčica rivers and the establishment of two new protected areas, an important signal of Croatia’s commitment to nature conservation. This decision was reached today following an initiative led by the Public Institution for Nature Protection Natura Viva and supported by the Karlovac County and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

This decision builds on recent precedents to protect the Krupa, Mura, and Drava rivers and comes as the result of robust community engagement through the United for Rivers initiative—a cross-regional coalition of NGOs working to protect 13 rivers across five Western Balkan countries. These areas mark the first official protections resulting from this campaign and longstanding efforts led by local communities to preserve these iconic rivers.

The decision to establish a monument to nature in the upper course of the Mrežnica River and a significant landscape in its middle course is of great importance for both nature and local communities. It ensures the implementation of conservation measures on one of Croatia’s most spectacular rivers, providing sanctuary for diverse plant and animal species, and protecting the dozens of tufa waterfalls the river is known for.

“We are pleased with the large number of people who were involved in the public consultation during the declaration process for the protection of the Mrežnica River. We hope that local communities will continue to show interest in protecting this area to ensure its sustainable management and the preservation of important species and habitats. We still have a lot of work that can only be accomplished through constant communication and the inclusion of all stakeholders in the process, finding joint solutions based on nature”, said Antonija Bišćan, director of the Public Institution Natura Viva.

This decision is not merely a legal designation; it is a promise to safeguard the natural beauty, biodiversity, and social and cultural significance of Mrežnica and Tounjčica. The Public Institution Natura Viva, Karlovac County, and TNC are committed to continued collaboration, ensuring proper implementation of conservation measures, and commitment to sustainable management of new protected areas.

“Residents of Karlovac County appreciate their rivers, and the Mrežnica is special in that regard. We affectionately refer to it as ‘a beauty,’ ‘a pearl,’ a truly unique and magical river. Therefore, I believe that this is a significant step in our efforts to preserve the Mrežnica River for generations to come. We aim to ensure sustainable management of this valuable natural resource in collaboration with relevant ministries, the non-governmental sector, and the local community. This decision puts us on the right path to achieve it,” said Martina Furdek Hajdin, Karlovac County Prefect.

The protected areas will play an important role in preserving the natural and social values of the river, offering sustainable recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike while preserving important habitats and species.

“The Nature Conservancy views the protection of Mrežnica and Tounjčica as flagships and exemplary models aligning with our strategy for durable river protection. Engaging closely with local communities through our United for Rivers initiative, we recognize them as the backbone of river conservation and the sustainable use of river resources. We are delighted to witness the successful protection of Mrežnica and Tounjčica, and proud to contribute to this process. We are fully committed to providing ongoing support for the continuing conservation of these rivers and we hope this milestone will inspire other countries in the region to strengthen their river conservation efforts,” said Irma Popović Dujmović, TNC Freshwater Program Director for Croatia.


Additional resources:

●      Mrežnica River videos featuring Martina Furdek Hajdin, Karlovac County Mayor,  and Asim Ugljen, a Croatian actor and avid kayaker

●      United for Rivers initiative website

●      United for Rivers landing page at

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.