Environmental activists and bird lovers around the world are celebrating an important victory in Montenegro. Ulcinj Salina has been declared a protected area by the local municipality and proposed by the Government for the inclusion on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Efforts now will include restarting salt production and regulating other ecosystem services to secure Ulcinj Salina’s sustainable future.
A marshland of global importance for the feeding, breeding, and wintering of birds and an area of exceptional biodiversity, Ulcinj Salina is a habitat for half of Europe’s birds – around 250 species. The “signature” species of Ulcinj Salina in the past several years has been the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), but also the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), a unique and distinct species which regularly visits the Salina area, with flocks of up to 100 specimens observed in the fall months.
All of these bird species are there because of the abundance of food, making it exceptionally important to resume salt production halted back in 2013. During salt production between April and September, strong pumps would pump water from the sea into Ulcinj Salina. With it, they would also pump a large number of sea animals, their larvae and eggs, which became an important source of food for thousands of bird families, explains EuroNatur Foundation.
Covering 1,500 hectares of land, Ulcinj Salina is one of the largest salt flats in the Mediterranean, without which many bird species probably wouldn’t survive their 5,000-kilometer long migration from Africa to Europe and back.
Salina designated for inclusion on Ramsar List
Ulcinj Salina is now a candidate for the inclusion on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, Montenegro’s Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism has announced. As an exceptional bird habitat, Ulcinj Salina meets six out of nine criteria for inclusion in the Ramsar List, according to the ministry.
The Ramsar List was established in response to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), also called the Ramsar Convention. The inclusion of a wetland in the List embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained.
The Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of Sites.
The process to declare Salina a protected area has involved efforts of a number of stakeholders – the civil society, the state, the local government, and notably, the diplomatic community. Former German Ambassador to Montenegro Gudrun Steinacker even received the 2017 EuroNatur Award for her exemplary involvement in the campaign for the protection of Ulcinj Salina.
Project to assess ecosystem services of Salina under way
One victory has been won, but the real fight is yet to begin.
In an op-ed for Balkan Green Energy News earlier this year, Jovana Janjušević, executive director of the Center for Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP) in Montenegro, wrote that this fight will include setting up the future operator, rehabilitating the infrastructure, resolving the issues of ownership and workers’ rights, and relaunching salt production, which calls for an investment of up to several million euros.
The CZIP is one of the organizations, alongside BirdLife International, EuroNatur, and the Dr Martin Schneider-Jacoby Association, that helped collect over 100,000 signatures supporting an initiative to declare Ulcinj Salina a protected area.
Its project coordinator Marija Stanišić now tells Balkan Green Energy News that the CZIP has been implementing the project “Assessment of ecosystem services of Ulcinj Salina” since 2018, with the support of BirdLife International, to provide an additional argument as to why Salina should be a protected area and why salt production should be restarted. The project is funded by the MAVA foundation.
The project is being implemented using the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) developed by BirdLife International, which has been designed to allow users to develop an understanding of the benefits people receive from nature, and assess their value, in order to generate information for decision making. It will contribute to awareness‐raising of the importance of Ulcinj Salina and ecosystem services that this wetland provides, Stanišić says.
The project, which should wrap up by the end of 2019, is aimed at identifying Salina’s most significant ecosystem services and determining their monetary value, including in order to show what kind of damage would be incurred by degrading Salina.
Stanišić says five ecosystem services have been identified as the most likely to be assessed:
- tourism and recreation
- cultural services (the non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems)
- water quality
- harvested wild goods (salt, medicinal clay)
These ecosystem services are key to developing the birdwatching tourism in Salina, Stanišić says, noting that a questionnaire will be handed out to Salina’s visitors to identify their key motives for visiting, be it walking, birdwatching, or other reasons.
The matters that need to be determined is the value of a ticket visitors would be ready to pay to visit the protected area and what kind of services they would enjoy in Salina, according to her.
Stanišić says the financing is expected to come from EU funds, noting that the state’s support will be crucial. One of the key next steps is for the Ulcinj municipality to form a public company to operate Salina, which should be done by the end of August 2020, but will prove to be a challenge due to the municipality’s financial difficulties, she says.