The environmental association Vita Nativa (based in Olhão) let me know about their latest project called ‘Projeto Bio-Ilhas’. In partnership with the Associação Viridia - conservation in action, they plan to create a series of Bio-Islands in the Ria Formosa Natural Park. They plan to set them in the abandoned salt pans, as well as various WasteWater Treatment Plants in the concelhos of Olhão and Faro.
Well, let's start off with the problem. The group of birds called the ‘Aves Limícolas', or what we in English call waders (because they spend most of their time ‘wading’ through the mud looking for food) are having a lot of trouble finding somewhere they feel safe to settle down and start a family. ‘Love birds’ in species such as the ‘chilreta’ (little tern), ‘a perdiz-do-mar’ (collared pratincole), ‘o alfaiate’ (pied avocet) and the ‘borrelho-de-coleira-interrompida’ (Kentish plover) need very specific conditions to make their nests. They like sandy places with little vegetation and, understandably, where they won’t be disturbed.
These specific criteria are getting harder and harder to come across. As Vita Nativa said in their press release: "The decrease in these bird populations is directly associated with the abandonment of salt marshes and the great human pressure that exists in these habitats."
But hang on just a minute... Maybe this is a silly question, but I always assumed that humans ‘abandoning’ a place was generally a good thing for nature? Well, generally it is. But Vita Nativa patiently explained to me that in this case, it's a little different. You see, the little paths that surround and connect the saltpans (called ‘combros’ in Portuguese) provide the perfect safe haven for these bird species to nest. When they are abandoned though, these ‘combros’ start to degrade and these sandy paths they like so much, soon get reclaimed by both the sea and the vegetation. It also means that when these salt flats aren’t in use, it's more likely that humans (as well as their dogs and cats) will walk past and disturb them. So, part of the plan is to reconstruct the ‘combros’, but also to isolate them so that humans can’t walk past and so the birds feel safe to ‘do their thing’.
Onto the islands…
This is only part of the plan though, after hearing about its success in various other countries around the world, Vita Nativa plans to build some of these 'bio-islands' themselves.
They are still in the planning stage and haven’t decided what they are going to make them out of yet. But the plan is to make seven in total.
They will be floating islands, but the specifics on how exactly they will float (and not float away) are still up on the drawing board...
I saw that in other countries around the world they employ what they call the ‘social attraction' method to attract the seabirds to these artificial islands. It could also be called the ‘Well, Daffy is there so it must be safe’ method and basically consists of putting a series of ‘bird decoys’ on the island (as well as possibly some audio recordings of happy bird calls). I asked Vita Nativa if they have any plans to do this? I was delighted to find out, they do!
To increase awareness for this project they will be visiting not just salt pan owners and public and private entities (ICNF, SEPNAA/GNR and companies in the tourism sector), but they also regularly visit schools and the idea is to see if the kids can make them. Of course, it remains to be seen how they turn out... But if they are convincing enough, they will stick them on the islands to see if they can attract some new contestants for what I like to think of as a revamped version of the TV show ‘Love Island'. It's certainly a different concept but let's hope ‘love is in the air’ and it takes off!
If you would like to find out more about this project and others like it, then you can follow this link to their website:
http://vitanativa.org/bioilhas or visit their Facebook page at Associação Vita Nativa.