Protecting the gentle giants of the wetlands
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Using nesting rafts and video monitoring to conserve bird breeding colonies
Even one of the world’s largest birds is not immune from natural and human impacts on wetlands. Despite their size, Dalmatian Pelican are easily affected by human disturbance, persecution, seasonal flooding and wetland changes, meaning they are listed by BirdLife International as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Skadar Lake harbours an important nesting colony that has suffered an 80% population decrease since the 1970s. This is an especially pressing conservation issue because the species is an ecological indicator for the health of the lake, an emblem of Skadar Lake National Park; and this work a “flagship” example of wetland conservation.
A conservation project has utilised the power of participatory planning to successfully protect the Dalmatian Pelican from threats and increase the colony’s population in Montenegro, through a set of good management practices that have involved all local stakeholders.
The colony of “gentle giants” now nests on purpose-built rafts which are video-monitored 24 hours a day so threats can be responded to immediately. Community outreach and encouragement of ecotourism opportunities sees local people embracing all things pelican. With nesting success increasing, the time of the pelican is coming again to Skadar Lake.
“With a wingspan of almost three metres and weighing over 10 kg, you can imagine that it would be like a small person standing next to you. Just without a voice for his rights.” - Bjanka Prakljačić
Where: Skadar Lake, on the border of Montenegro and Albania, Europe.
Key species: Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus (Vulnerable).
Project partners: Noé Conservation, Public Enterprise National Parks Montenegro, the Natural History Museum of Montenegro, the Centre for Protection and Research of Birds in Montenegro (CZIP), EuroNatur, Tour du Valat, and INCA.
Pelican problems & solutions
Natural nesting sites for Dalmatian Pelican on Skadar Lake are mainly reed and peat islands that are prone to flooding during spring storms – this is a major problem for the nesting success of such a small colony.
The project team created four manmade buoyant nesting rafts, which, unlike terrestrial nests, are able to rise and fall with the changing water level.
The first generation of rafts was made mainly of wood (3-4 year lifespan); the latest generation will be built from polypropylene pontoons (30 years with limited maintenance).
The pelicans had no problem adjusting to the new platforms. In large waves, the pelicans are hesitant to sit on the bobbing rafts, but still nesting success is better than a terrestrial nest which would be flooded at that time.
Human disturbance management
“Motivating people to protect a species is the most important task,” says Bjanka Prakljačić. “We humans are the ultimate problem solvers, so call on humans when you have a problem.”
Several measures have been used to manage the disturbance of Dalmatian Pelican on Skadar Lake. The most important is remote video surveillance. Cameras have been installed on the nest rafts, powered by solar panels mounted on the rafts. Videos and screen-shots from the colony are then sent via a GSM signal to a distant computer, avoiding the need for long cables leading to the colony. Another important factor in mitigating disturbance of the pelican’s colony is control of the intentional and unintentional access to the colony by local communities. Local stakeholders (fishermen, national park rangers, policemen, tourist boat operators, etc.) have been involved in discussions and a unanimous decision was made to respect a 300 m no-approach zone between December and July when pelicans are nesting. Zonation by anchoring of floating buoys was established.
Pelican hotline: violations are reported immediately, in response to which the national park authority sends out a ranger and a patrol boat.
Pelican Day and Pelican Villages: the project is also developing ecotourism on and around the lake, with information centres, non-invasive boat tours and observation points. Fishermen, who disturb the birds and compete for fish, can gain a financial benefit from the pelicans that will compensate for any loss of fishing income.
Nesting success a record high since 1977
"The people of Skadar Lake see the thriving Dalmatian Pelicans as their neighbours, friends and business partners."
Bjanka Prakljačić, Noé Conservation
Bjanka Prakljačić | email@example.com
- Pelican hotline
- Drama in Dalmatian Pelican conservation
- Cross-border cooperation for Lake Skadar and its pelicans
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The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. Additional support in the Mediterranean Basin is provided by the MAVA Foundation. More information on CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net
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