For a country in economic crisis with a booming tourism industry, the prospect of oil drilling in the pristine Adriatic threatens to muddy the waters.
'The Mediterranean as It Once Was', the hugely successful slogan of the Croatian National Tourist Board, which helped the country's tourism to successfully recover from regional conflict, could be under threat if plans announced by Ivan Vrdoljak the Minister of the Economy, on February 24, 2014, get the go-ahead.
In addition to the natural treasure of a pristine coastline and more than 1,000 islands, it appears from geological surveys that Croatia also possesses natural wealth of a different kind under the ocean floor in the shape of oil and gas.
Geological data about exploration areas will be made available to interested parties on March 10, with international tenders to be published in April, with the state's stake in oil and gas production to average 52 percent.
"That is in line with experience of other countries in the Mediterranean. We expect the first exploration work to start at the beginning of next year and to take up to five years, depending on the area," Vrdoljak said.
Vrdoljak expects Croatian gas production to be in the region of 9 billion cubic metres, or three times annual national consumption.
Regional daily Slobodna Dalmacija, citing unofficial sources, has named the southern part of the country's coast on the boarder with Montenegro and the tourist island of Brac as two of the most promising sources of natural wealth under the Adriatic, and carried a story yesterday under the headline "There is oil near Brac and platforms will arrive in January 2015."
Although the minister pointed out that all exploration would be subject to the strictest environmental protection and regulation, the announcement will understandably cause concern in the country's tourism sector, whose main selling point is its azure waters, sunshine and endless beaches, an image clearly at odds with a reality of oil and gas platforms.
The island of Brac is one of Croatia's most popular destinations, with its iconic Zlatni Rat beach the most recognisable in all Croatia, while its trademark white stone is exported all over the world, and can be found in prominent buildings such as The White House in Washington and Liverpool Cathedral. Yet one more piece of natural goodness in a country which may be heading for a collision course on the needs of tourism and the needs of the economy.