S´Albufera Natural Park in Mallorca…a Nature Reserve…
In the north of Mallorca, about 5 km from Alcudia and in the area of Playa de Muro, you will find S´Albufera Natural Park, called “Al-buhayra” by the Arabs, a wet oasis where water is scarce. Here is quite abundant and makes possible the diversity of life and landscape.
The rainfall over the Serra de Tramuntana reach S´Albufera from different sources where groundwater outcrop, like streams in Muro and St. Miquel where surface water runs and when the rain is intense burst the Ufanes Fountains and water also flowing into S´Albufera (see photos here).
The sand bar prevents direct landlocked freshwater to the sea, being retained to form large flooded areas. At some points, as S’Oberta, water finds a way out. Leaks also occur in reverse, and the salty sea water enters in S´Albufera water. This combination of fresh and brackish water is the one that shapes the various wetland environments in terms of salinity, depth and type of soil.
Wherever freshwater predominates there are large areas of reed, sedge, bulrush and reeds, the Salicornia is the ambience of the brackish water. In the margins of the channels we find a peculiar ecosystem, the riparian forest. In the sandbar that separates the S´Albufera from the sea, dune vegetation is present. In each of these environments, there is own flora and fauna that make up the set of greatest biodiversity of Balearic Islands. S´Albufera is a place with a higher concentration of different species, precisely because of the presence of water.
There are frogs, snakes, terrapins, 26 species of fish, 8 bats, a huge variety of insects such as dragonflies, butterflies, spiders and 300 known species of moths. Stand out above all, 268 species of birds in S´Albufera Natural Park, over sixty breeds, others rely on their long migratory journey, and others remain all winter.
But S´Albufera is not only territory for animals and plants, also has a long history of coexistence with humans, a story that combines harmonious relationships with the most transformative actions. The neighboring villages of S´Albufera obtained food by hunting and fishing, cattle pastures, rice, sugar cane, reed and cattail to develop a variety of products. These activities, compatible with life in S´Albufera, have alternated with other activities with more impact, which reduced the extent of the wetland of S´Albufera to half of its original size.
In the nineteenth century a draft drying, justified by reasons of health and agriculture, which led to a profound change in the landscape was made, roads, canals, bridges and more still present today are the result of that action. The works of the power plant “Es Murterar” also affected wetland. But the most important changes came with the urban and tourist projects, from the 60´s, hotels, apartments, holiday homes, streets and roads occupied this place, especially the sand bar and the far north. To stop the urbanization of S´Albufera, many scientists, conservation organizations across Europe and the GOB (Ornithology Group of Balearic Islands) requested its protection. Finally, during the 80´s, a series of ecological and legal studies culminated on January 28, 1988 with the declaration of the S´Albufera Natural Park, the first national park of the Balearic Islands (Decree 4/1988). International organizations have also recognized the ecological importance of this wetland with various statements, Wetland of International Importance, including the Ramsar Convention and the Red Natura 2000 as a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) and Site of Community Importance (SCI). Once protected, begins a new story, the story of the conservation and recovery of S´Albufera Natural Park.
S´Albufera Natural Park is situated in terms of Muro and Sa Pobla. It has an area of 1,688 hectares, nearly 80% of public property. The rest are estates on the periphery of the Park. S´Albufera management corresponds to Government of Balearic Islands. A Governing Board with broad social representation is the main organ of participation and control of the park and work day to day in diverse tasks as management, environmental education, visitor information, administration, monitoring nature, maintenance, farming and livestock. All human and economic resources in the service of a priority, conservation and restoration of natural and cultural heritage, which should be compatible with public, educational and scientific purposes and integration into the socio-economic reality of their immediate environment, and these are the guidelines:
WATER: a priority of management is to control and monitor the quality and quantity of water in the wetland. The declaration of the park involved the improvement of water quality. The waters before discharging untreated are now taken to the sewage in Can Picafort and Sa Pobla. Each month, the park staff takes water samples to measure a number of physicochemical parameters and ensure its quality. The other objective of the water management is the control of the quality and the flow of water. The canals built in the nineteenth century had S´Albufera drying function as water flowed directly into the sea. Now the aim is to maintain a basic network of canals in good condition for its importance as habitat to maintain the ecological flow and for agricultural areas of Sa Marjal, in Sa Pobla, from flooding. Retention actions are also taken for fresh water to maintain flooded areas and restore ancient lakes. All without losing contact with the sea, essential for fish stocks, such as eel, the most important for the fishermen of the region species.
To meet these objectives, there are flood gates, dredging and cleaning of canals and ditches and ponds are made. During the winter, not to interfere with breeding, reed, which thus does not stifle the flow of water in the canals is mowed. The cleanings are especially important when downloading streams do get to park large amounts of waste materials deposited upstream.
GRAZING: in the past, S´Albufera was pasture land, but when this practice was abandoned, the extent of reed grew and became too dense. This fact, together with the gradual silting up of the area, caused the shallow open waters, necessary for food for many birds, almost disappear.
To restore this habitat, it was decided to act, discarding the use of machinery and fire, it was decided to extensive grazing of livestock. Suitable for this work animals are cows, Mallorcan race and in some specific points also Camargue horses and Asian or Water buffaloes are used. They are animals able to feed in the wetlands. Thus the natural park has also contributed to retrieve a native breed. More than a hundred cows graze shutters during the spring and summer, and autumn are transferred to the neighboring mountain Biniatria, for the winter.
BIODIVERSITY: The results of monitoring of vegetation by grazing have been spectacular for the biodiversity of the park. Has recovered a considerable extent of open water, and thus increased the number and diversity of birds in the park: the density of wintering has increased more than 400%, before rare species such as bittern, the heron Cattle and crabeater, now raise, herons are abundant. They have also grown populations of fish, amphibians, turtles and orchids.
Another step taken to restore biodiversity has been the reintroduction of species that had disappeared, as the swan and teals, already become regulars and raised in S´Albufera.?It also monitors the presence of invasive species, harmful to native flora and fauna such as Florida´s turtles, feral cats, carp and various alien plants.
TRADITIONS: S´Albufera management is not only directed to biodiversity, one of the objectives is also to maintain and restore traditional uses, such as eel fishing, rice farming in Sa Marjal, crafts cane and bulrush. These activities are part of the cultural heritage of the region and deserve to be protected. The restoration of unique elements also allowed retrieving a valuable architectural heritage.
SCIENCE: A basic piece for S´Albufera is managing the monitoring program and research support. From the park various monitoring activities are performed. There is a weather station that allows the daily collection of data, which are transmitted to the National Institute of Meteorology and incorporated into the database of the park. Monitoring the water quality has the support of the Directorate General of Water Resources. Special attention is devoted to monitor the amount of nitrates, phosphates and other contaminants in the water park.
Since 1988, systematically collects all information on bird populations, migration, reproduction, evolution of reintroduced species. The ornithological tracked by counts, scientific ringing and recording observations. The contributions made by visitors also incorporated into the database. Are also monitored the effects of grazing on vegetation, and public use: the number, origin and type of visitors are recorded.
The laboratory “Dennis Bishop” is equipped with full scientific instruments in the service of the work of the park, and available research projects of others. Over twenty research groups and many scientists from universities and state institutions and abroad, performing work on botany, zoology, geology, ecology, etc.., in collaboration with the park.
Most of the research activities are conducted under the TAIB, International Biodiversity Group of S´Albufera, composed of scientists from diverse fields from across Europe. Since 1989 keep track of biodiversity, ecology, environmental change and the effects of park management. The research results are disclosed through various publications and websites. A milestone in reporting has been publishing the S´Albufera biodiversity inventory, which includes more than three thousand species of animals, plants and fungi in the park. The contribution of the park to natural science is essential, but the most important contribution is to ensure the conservation of species and ecosystems.
VISITORS: S´Albufera Natural Park in Mallorca is not only open to science, is open to all tourists, families, naturalists, photographers, schools and anyone who wants to enjoy Nature.
Each year about 120,000 people visit the park. The number of visitors grew dramatically in the early days of the park, and has now stabilized. About 80% come from abroad, especially from Germany and the UK. To make the most interesting and rewarding visit, there is a new reception center, a permanent exhibition, a set of routes, points and observation towers, staff dedicated to information and education, and publications in various languages.
Visitors must follow minimum rules, to protect the flora and fauna or disturb other visitors, such as respect the schedule, get inside the park only on foot or by bicycle, walking quietly through the marked routes, not collect plants or animals, etc.. You can get map and itineraries here.
ENVIRONMENT: S´Albufera is not an island off the area where it is located, an agrarian, rural and tourism environment in which the park should be a dynamic element of relevance.
S´Albufera Natural Park attraction has been one of the factors with higher socio-economic impact, since the revaluation of the area contributes to the arrival of a different kind of tourism attracted by what it offers.
S´Albufera Natural Park in Mallorca is water, life and culture, a set of values that should be preserved. But it is also much more than that. Wetlands are essential to the conservation of the biodiversity of the planet. And in Mallorca, the Park is a key to progress towards sustainability.
More photos from Natural Park of S´Albufera in our photo channel.