Bulgaria doubles number of its Wetlands of International Importance

20/01/2003

Bulgaria designates five new Ramsar sites and extends three others

Bulgaria has doubled the number of its Wetlands of International Importance, as of 24 September and 11 November 2002, from five to ten, and extended the boundaries of three more, including Lake Srebarna. Located mostly on and around islands in the River Danube and surroundings and along the southern Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea, particularly around the city of Burgas, these important new designations bring Bulgaria's Ramsar totals to 10 sites covering 20,306 hectares. Ramsar's Sergey Dereliev has provided brief descriptions of the new sites, and the extensions as well, and notes that in addition to their importance as biodiversity "hotspots", some of them have particular cultural importance for their traditional salinas - indeed, the Lake Pomorie site has been one of the four target sites within the All About Salt (ALAS) project in the period 1999-2002, and a museum of the salt works has recently been opened there. In his coverage of these new and extended sites, Sergey draws attention to the continuing work of NGOs in the area, especially for their assistance in developing and helping to implement management plans: the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Conservation Programme, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria, Bulgarian Ornithological Centre, the Central Laboratory of General Ecology, Le Balkan, and Green Balkans.

New sites:

Belene Islands Complex. 24/09/2002. Pleven. 6,898 ha. 43°40'N 025°11'E. Reserve, Natural Monument, Natural Park. A group of one big (Belene) and nine smaller islands located along 16km of the River Danube, on the country's northern boundary with Romania. The main part of the islands is covered with seasonally flooded riverine forest of Alnus spp., Salix spp. and Populus spp., diversified by several marshes and streams, and the site is a particularly good representative example of a natural riverine wetland complex in the Danube River catchment. The site has exceptional biodiversity values and hosts several rare species of plants like Nymphaea alba, Nymphoides peltata, Marsilea quadrifolia and Leucojum aestivum as well as five globally threatened species of birds (Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, White-tailed Eagle Haliaetus albicilla, Corncrake Crex crex and Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola), and the globally threatened invertebrate Hirudo medicinalis. It is one of the most important breeding grounds along the Danube River for mixed colonies of herons, egrets, ibises and cormorants (6,000-9,000 pairs in the 1980s) and offers suitable stopover sites for about 20 migratory species of birds. The islands once had a significant role as a nursery for about 20 fish species, and efforts are being made to reinstate their importance with a planned restoration project. Part of Belene has been utilized as a prison since 1948 - other activities in this part of the island include agriculture, farming and small-scale timber harvest. A large-scale restoration project is ongoing, and a management plan is under development. Ramsar site no. 1226.

Ibisha Island. 24/09/2002. Montana. 372 ha. 43°49'N 023°31'E. Partially Maintained Reserve. An island located in the River Danube along the country's northern boundary with Romania. Ibisha is situated just opposite the village of Dolni Tzibar and east of the town of Lom. It has significant importance for the conservation of waterbird fauna and rare habitats. The whole island is covered with seasonally flooded riverine forest of Alnus spp., Salix spp. and Populus spp., and the Ramsar site also includes a part of the river and its bank. The wetland is recognized as a Ramsar site for its importance for preservation of a rare forested wetland habitat within the Danube catchment and conservation of a rich assemblage of breeding rare waterbirds (mixed colony of Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Squaco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea and Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia). Human uses on-site include forestry and fishing. Ramsar site no. 1227.

Poda. 24/09/2002. Burgas. 307 ha. 42°27'N 027°27'E. Partially Protected Area. A marshy wetland and adjacent sea bay located on the outskirts of the city of Burgas on the Black Sea coast. Although naturally formed as part of the Burgas-Mandra firth, the coastal wetland has deteriorated due to human interference in 1960s and later evolved into a mosaic of different habitats - freshwater, brackish, saline and hyper-saline pools, and flooded areas overgrown with aquatic vegetation. The site includes the shallow sea bay Phoros. The site has outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation, and more than 260 rare, vulnerable and endangered species of plants and animals have been recorded, among them eight globally threatened bird species and one globally threatened animal species (Otter Lutra lutra) - some species with restricted distribution also occur, like the Etruscan Shrew Suncus etruscus. Poda is an important breeding ground for some waterbirds (a mixed colony of glossy ibises, spoonbills - the only place along the Bulgarian coast where the spoonbill breeds - and five species of herons and egrets) and a valuable stopover site for migratory birds, and it hosts numerous winter concentrations of waterbirds, for many species often beyond the 1% threshold of the biogeographic population - Dalmatian Pelicans Pelecanus crispus, Great White Egret Egretta alba, Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, and White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. A management plan for the site, elaborated by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria (BSPB), is about to be approved by the Ministry of Environment and Waters. The same NGO has built a successful Conservation Centre in the site, so far the only one in a wetland site in Bulgaria; in recent years, some 15,000 people have visited the centre and the wetland yearly. For its outstanding work on management and conservation of Poda, the BSPB received the "Henry Ford" European Conservation Award for 1995/96. Ramsar site no. 1228.

Pomorie Wetland Complex. 24/09/2002. Burgas. 814 ha. 42°35'N 027°37'E. Partially Protected Area. Located on the Black Sea coast, a wetland of particular significance for biodiversity and as a resource pool for various products utilized by people. The major part of the site is a shallow coastal hyper-saline lagoon connected to the Black Sea by an artificial canal. Other associated wetland types are estuaries (River Akheloy), salt marshes, sand dunes, reedbeds, salt pans, etc. The wetland has been designated chiefly for its uniqueness, as one of the two coastal hyper-saline lagoons in the Black Sea region converted into salinas. It supports many nationally and internationally red-listed plant and animal species - some 240 bird species have been recorded, including four globally threatened ones, and some that are adapted to the hyper-saline conditions. It is an important stopover site for migratory birds and offers suitable conditions for wintering of shellducks, swans, ducks, coots, etc., and for breeding of several species of plovers, avocets, stilts, and terns. The main human uses include both artisanal and intensive salinas, extraction of curative mud, and harvest of the blue-green algae Lyngbus sp. for the pharmaceutical industry. With some 2,000 years of salt production by traditional methods, the site has a particular cultural value as well. Lake Pomorie has been one of the four target sites within the All About Salt (ALAS) project in the period 1999-2002, and a museum of the salt works has recently been opened. Active institutions and organizations are the Municipality of Pomorie, the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Conservation Programme, and Green Balkans. Ramsar site no. 1229.

Vaya Lake. 11/11/2002. Burgas. 2,900 ha. 42°30'N 027°25'E. Partially Protected Area.The largest Bulgarian lake, one of the four lakes of the Burgas wetland complex surrounding the city. The wetland, of very high significance for biodiversity (especially birds), is a shallow freshwater/brackish liman with associated marshy areas and extensive reedbeds (the largest in the country); fish farm basins, adjacent to the lake, are heavily overgrown by aquatic vegetation. In the site have been recorded several IUCN red-listed species of animals - 5 invertebrates, 4 fish, 4 amphibians, 3 reptiles, 5 birds and 3 mammals. Situated along the second largest migration path of birds in Europe, the "Via Pontica", the site is an important stopover and staging site for a large number of waterbirds, raptors and passerines. Yearly during migration and wintering more than 20,000 (up to 100,000) waterbirds congregate there, some species with more than the 1% threshold of the biogeographic population, including Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons, and White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala. Fishing and sand extraction are practiced. Among the most serious threats to the site are those associated with the country's only petrol refinery. A management plan is under elaboration. Organization active on the ground - the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Conservation Programme. Ramsar site no. 1230.

Extensions:

Ropotamo Complex (formerly called 'Arkoutino'). 24/09/1975. Burgas. 5,500 ha. 42°19'N 027°45'E. Partially Reserve, Natural Monument, Maintained Reserve and Protected Area. The site has been extended from 97 ha to 5,500 ha and the name has been changed in 2002. The site, on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast, represents a diverse mosaic of various habitats - river downstream and estuary, seasonally flooded riverine and broad-leaved deciduous forests, small freshwater and brackish lagoons, sand dunes, rocky shores and fjords, a sea bay, sea inlets. The site provides refuge to many nationally and internationally IUCN red-listed species of plants and animals, among which are seven globally threatened species of birds and two plant species, eight invertebrate species and seven mammal species. Rich endemic and relict flora and fauna are recorded in the site. The main human uses are forestry, hunting, and recreational activities, and the site is a very popular destination for nature lovers, offering some facilities as well. Management plans are in preparation, and the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Conservation Programme is active at the site. Ramsar site no. 65.

Atanasovsko Lake. 28/11/1984. Burgas. 1,404 ha. 42°34'N 027°28'E. Partially Maintained Reserve. The site has been extended from 1,050 ha to 1,404 ha in 2002. Situated on the southern Bulgarian coast, Atanasovsko is one of the four lakes of the Burgas wetland complex surrounding the city. The wetland has a highly recognized significance for biodiversity and as a resource pool for various products utilized by people. It is a shallow hyper-saline lagoon associated with salt marshes, reedbeds, a complex of salt pans (outside the Ramsar sites) and settling pools surrounded by a dike and a freshwater canal. This is one of the two salinas in the Black Sea region and demonstrates rare and representative examples of wetland habitats. A hot spot for biodiversity with many red-listed species of plants and animals, it is a well-known bottleneck site for migratory birds with around 60,000 raptors and 240,000 storks, pelicans and cranes passing over the site and often landing in large numbers for staging - the highest numbers in Europe of migrating White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus, Dalmatian Pelicans Pelecanus crispus, Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus, and Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus have been recorded here, and the site is a very popular destination for birdwatchers, photographers, scientists and bird ringers from nearby and abroad. The main human uses are salt production and extraction of curative mud. A management plan will soon be approved. Active organizations include the Bulgarian-Swiss Biodiversity Conservation Programme, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian Ornithological Centre. Ramsar site no. 292.

Srebarna. 24/09/1975. Silistra. 1,357 ha. 44°06'N 027°04'E. World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve, Maintained Reserve. Added to the Montreux Record, 16 June 1993. The site was extended from 600 ha to 1,357 ha in 2002. It is located on the southern bank of the River Danube 18 km west of the town of Silistra, and the major part of the site is the freshwater oxbow lake Srebarna (the last extant oxbow lake along the Burgarian bank of the Danube), including an adjacent part of the River Danube and the river island Komluka covered by seasonally flooded forest of Salix sp. and Populus sp. The lake is an eutrophic wetland densely overgrown with emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation, sustaining both representative and rare wetland habitats. It is a biodiversity hot spot with some 2,748 taxa recorded, among them many red-listed plant and animal species, including some globally threatened species, and hosts more than 50,000 migratory and wintering waterbirds. After a long period of deterioration due to a dam construction separating the lake from the river, a small-scale restoration project (digging out a connecting canal) was undertaken in 1994 and conditions have been reinstated to a great extent. Poaching remains a persistent problem. A management plan, developed with support from the Ramsar Small Grants Fund, has been approved. Active organizations include the Central Laboratory of General Ecology, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria, and Le Balkan. Ramsar site no. 64.

-- reported by Sergey Dereliev, Ramsar

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