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Europe and Central Asia
22 Apr 2015

Bird paradise in Montenegro now safe from developers

Flamingos, Ulcinj Salina © Center for Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro
By Lisa Benedetti

In a country where people flock to the seaside in waves in summer, it’s not surprising that developers had big dollar signs in their eyes when looking at the picturesque salt flats of Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro.

These coastal wetlands, which for centuries have been one of the most important areas along the eastern Adriatic for many bird species, have been coveted by developers. They tried to turn the area into a tourism haven, but years of campaigning by the Centre for Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP) and partner organizations have recently stopped this. We can thankfully now say that this special place is out of danger as it is in the process of being designated as a protected area. This is great news after the tireless and successful efforts of CZIP and others, with vital support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to develop ecotourism in the area.

The beautiful and salty Ulcinj Salina is part of the Bojana-Buna Delta, which forms at the mouth of the Bojana River; a natural border between Montenegro and Albania. Millions of birds rely on this bird paradise each year. It’s one of the Adriatic’s most Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA), with an amazing 250 species either nesting or simply stopping in spring and autumn to rest as they travel along the eastern Adriatic’s migratory flyway. Rare species such as the Little Tern and Collared Pratincole breed here, while the Stone Curlew and Eurasian Roller use it to take a break on their long journey. In some seasons, you can also see hundreds of Eurasian Spoonbill and the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican passing through.

It’s hard to imagine such a place being destroyed and converted into a land full of hotels and golf courses. But this is exactly what almost happened. Over the last decade, there had been mounting pressure from the tourist industry to give investors the stamp of approval to develop the area for their purposes. There were plans to drain and convert the wetlands into hotels and golf courses. That is, until CZIP and communities convinced the government that the area and the unique wildlife warranted special protection and had to be saved.

In a recent and very positive move forward for conservation, the Montenegrin authorities publicly recognised the importance of Ulcinj Salina as an important breeding and wintering site for birds. They are now taking steps to have it designated as a protected area and it will soon also be declared an official Emerald Site under the Bern Convention before the end of this year.

We have too many reminders of what happens to nature and wildlife when natural areas become tourist complexes. As pristine areas become rarer for the masses of people on this planet, they also become rarer for birds and wildlife too. We at BirdLife are glad that the future of Ulcinj Salina is one that can be pictured with countless birds and nature enthusiasts, rather than countless tourists.

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