Our Pilot sites
Emblematic wetlands, which are representative of different and complementary Mediterranean contexts
Through our pilot projects in the field, sharing our knowledge and collaborating with others facing similar challenges, we aim to catalyse wetland restoration on a large scale right across the region.
The six Ramsar wetlands in Oristano have been central to Sardinia’s economy and culture for hundreds of years. A rich cultural heritage developed on the back of the agriculture and fishing that supported the population, two activities particularly suited to the fertile soils, clean waterways and fish-filled coasts around Oristano. Natural wetland processes provided clean water for locals and protected them from floods and storm surges, while creating ideal conditions for biodiversity to flourish. Hundreds of bird species – some of them endangered – still nest, feed and winter here.
Over the years, however, wetlands on the Oristano coast have been severely degraded by human activities and other external elements, with no adequate management measures taken in response. This has led to blocked and polluted waterways, habitat fragmentation, biodiversity loss and erosion; while increasing saltwater intrusion is inevitable as global heating drives increased coastal flooding.
Thankfully for Oristano, concerted efforts are underway to turn things round. The key is in working with local communities to enhance their wetland environment to a point where it can once more provide the resources they need to guarantee new, sustainable livelihoods – as well as some protection against climate change. In this case, natural solutions are the way forward.
Ghar el Melh.
Designated a Wetland of International Importance, Ghar el Melh was the first North African and Middle Eastern city to receive Ramsar’s Wetland City Accreditation Award, in recognition of its formal engagement in efforts towards wetland protection and sustainability. Ghar el Melh actively promotes the ecological importance of its wetlands, and it also recognises their sociocultural value and their place in the region’s rich historical heritage.
While the city is much smaller today than it has been at times in the past, many of the remaining residents depend on the lagoon for their livelihoods. Artisanal fishers ply its calm waters, primarily targeting mullet and eels; while the wider region has become a popular seaside touristic destination, particularly in the summer months. Farmers use land right up to the shores of the lagoon, and on the floodplains to the north…
The Buna River contains the most important wetlands of high ecological value in the Eastern Mediterranean, sheltering some 320 species of flora, 250 bird species and 107 fish species. Many of the animals in the region are rare and endangered, including pygmy cormorant, Eurasian otter, golden jackal and sturgeon. It also has important oak forests.
Crop and livestock production, fishing and tourism in and around the Buna River are all heavily dependent on healthy wetland resources – but unsustainable practices are common in all these activities, reducing the resilience of local ecosystems. A possible solution could be to stop development in high-value wetlands to prevent further habitat degradation and to restore damaged critical wetlands and coastal habitats.
Saltpans are an interesting type of wetland. Although manmade, many have become very important habitats for birds across the Mediterranean, and the saltpans at Ulcinj are among the most important in the whole region. They’re the last stop-off for birds migrating across the Adriatic, and they also provide crucial nesting, wintering and roosting grounds for many others – more than 250 species have been recorded at Ulcinj, including flamingos, black-winged stilts and Dalmatian pelicans. The saltpans are also home to many endangered fish, amphibians, reptiles and saline plants.
The salt works at Ulcinj were set up in 1935, producing up to 40,000 tonnes a year at their peak and providing more than 400 jobs. But they were privatised in 2005 and systematically run down. The salt harvest was stopped in 2013 and the remaining workers dismissed, and the site was allowed to deteriorate as legally questionable efforts were made to sell it and construct a luxury hotel resort with golf courses and a marina.