One flew over a flamingo’s nest
As Europe plots the elements of the EU Green Deal, its specifics due out in 100 days, March 2020, and the Climate COP ends in Madrid, Off Your Map reminds our leaders that wetlands play a critical role in addressing both our biodiversity & climate crises.
Scientists and a teenage girl agree that the planet is at a tipping point. We’re facing the twin crises of climate and biodiversity that are threatening our very existence. The biodiversity crisis is the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems – indeed up to 1 million species are at risk of annihilation within decades. And many of them are in wetlands which are some of the planet’s greatest homes for biodiversity. The unique environment that is wetlands, if preserved and restored, will play a key role in any effective and holistic response to the twin global emergencies we face.
The Mediterranean Basin is one of the planet’s 34 biodiversity hotspots and wetlands figure prominently here. Although they cover just 2-3% of the surface area of the Basin, they support more than 30% of its vertebrate species. But twice as many species threatened with extinction are found there than in all the other Mediterranean ecosystems, and the risk of wetland-dependent globally threatened species going extinct has greatly increased since 1990. 36% of Mediterranean wetland species are now globally-threatened with extinction. Their decline is still ongoing, their abundance having halved since 1990.
Wetland Biodiversity is in Crisis
Healthy wetlands play an essential role as a habitat for biodiversity that can help to adapt to climate change. Mediterranean wetlands are a particularly important habitat for migratory birds.
However they are threatened under human pressure, reducing their capacity to preserve biodiversity.
So let’s drill down to what this threatened biodiversity might mean in our popular imagination.
For most of us wetlands are about birds and fish. Migratory birds use Mediterranean wetlands as a critical stop-over on their magnificent journey north in the spring and south in the autumn. Coastal wetlands, with their abundance of food and relative safety from predators also offer vast breeding grounds for great flocks of flapping flamingos or the less well-known but ornithologically-beloved Collared Pratincole, a wader who stops to nest in the French Camargue, after its exhausting voyage from southern Africa. With wetlands under threat, so too then are the familiar faces. Of the 1,138 waterbird populations whose trends are known, 41% are in decline.
One remarkable wetlands site is Montenegro’s Ulcinj Salina, part of the Bojana-Buna delta. It is affectionately known as a wetlands Heathrow Airport due to its importance as a hub for migratory birds. It serves as a critical resting and refuelling stop for feeding, and breeding, birds, both waders and other water birds. From hundreds of Eurasian Spoonbills and Dalmatian Pelicans to birds of prey such as Osprey, European Honey Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Western Marsh-harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, in birds alone the biodiversity is magnificent. Less common visitors from far away stop over as well, from the Corn Bunting to the Wood Lark – Ulcinj is indeed an aviation crossroads of repute for our feathered friends.
Historically a commercial salt pan operation, which kept the marshes in healthy balance, the activity fell victim to local and national political machinations until just recently when it was declared a protected area by the Municipality which will save it from being paved over with concrete for tourist hotels and their attendant golf courses. Ulcinj residents knew the value of what they were losing. A local shepherd, Luka Donovic, speaking to this, said “The Salina had great value, it gave back benefits, but they are losing it.” Another local, Mahmud Karastanovic, spoke of what has been lost as the salina was left to abandon until recently. “We used to drink water directly from the Bojana River. Now it is polluted. It is contaminated… we don’t have the capacity to clean it all.”
This protection and its eventual restoration will preserve and enhance Ulcinj Salina’s status as one of the Mediterranean’s richest biodiversity resources.
And of course because we’re talking biodiversity, we’re not just concerned about birds, but with a range of other species as well which are threatened in various proportions varying considerably between groups:
53% of the molluscs and 40% of the fish are threatened, and 11% of the dragonflies & damselflies.
The main threats to biodiversity leading to those frightening numbers are caused by the intensification of the human use of the land that has supported us for millions of years. Poor water quality due to agricultural and urban pollution, excessive coastal development which destroys the habitats, and the reduced quantity of water in wetlands because of pumping for agriculture. Healthy wetlands are like nature’s sponges, but they can only do so much. Luckily, if we preserve and restore them, they can be an effective nature-based solution to the climate crisis by acting as a buffer against extreme weather and absorbing significant quantities of carbon.
Life begins in wetlands.
Coastal wetlands have provided humanity with a wide range of benefits and life-enhancing qualities since the dawn of time. But now they’re disappearing at an alarming rate.
Our stories showcase Mediterranean coastal wetlands, the people who protect them, and the challenges they face.
Collared Pratincole Read the article in FR | ARI Bless the Rains Down in Africa It doesn’t know it yet, but that minuscule ball of down that just popped out of its shell into the world, running around wildly but never too far from the comfort of its parents, will...
Coastal wetlands are home to a fabulous diversity of species. But between land-grabbing and Climate Change, we’re losing them at an alarming rate. Read More
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The Ancestral Wetlands of Ghar El Melh: Feeding the Mind, Body and Soul Have you ever taken a bite from a fresh tomato grown by a traditional farmer in Tunisia’s Ghar El Melh wetlands? It’s a delight for the palate – but it’s so much more than that. Behind this scarlet fruit lies an ancestral, ... Read More
FRRead this post in FR
Wetlands offer holistic contributions to addressing the planetary crises through their various intrinsic functions and attributes – what scientists, and increasingly much of the concerned public, are now calling Nature-based Solutions, or NbS in our acronym-crazed world! Read More
“In the old times fishing began in September, now we start in March. Everything has been intensively exploited for decades, and we are now paying the consequences. The rain is irregular, the reeds die and some species become extinct because of the exceeding salinity of the water”, explains Danilo, a fisherman in Oristano. “We do our best. We respect the fish while it grows, we take care of the lagoon, it’s our home, but it is a bigger problem than us, and despite the subsidies we barely survive.” Read More
Wetlands & People: A Vital Connection is a short animated video, which captures the deep rootedness of wetlands in our lives, our souls and our history – and the way in which we humans increasingly threaten them. Read More
Collared Pratincole - Glareola pratincolaRead the article in FR | AROne flew over a flamingo’s nest As Europe plots the elements of the EU Green Deal, its specifics due out in 100 days, March 2020, and the Climate COP ends in Madrid, Off Your Map reminds our leaders that wetlands play a ... Read More
In coming decades the climate crisis will cause a rise in the frequency of catastrophic natural events. For the nearly 180 million people living in the Mediterranean coastal area, from Barcelona to Cairo, this means surviving an increasing number of extreme storms and flooding, and counter-intuitively longer-lasting droughts and less overall rainfall. Read More
ARRead this post in AR
Each year on 25 September, Mediterranean countries celebrate ‘Coast Day’: this celebrates the importance of coastal areas as natural, cultural and socio-economic resources that contribute to sustainable development. Read More
ARRead this post in AR
At long last, the salt pans of Ulcinj Salina have been declared a national protected area! For the past 15 years, the Center for Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP), partner of BirdLife, has fought tirelessly to block a controversial building development poised to destroy one of Europe’s most important migratory bird resting and breeding sites. Read More