Portugal designates five varied Ramsar sites


Interesting new Ramsar sites in Portugal

The Secretariat is very pleased to announce that the government of Portugal has designated five new Wetlands of International Importance, effective 2 December 2005. They are: Bertiandos and S. Pedro of Arcos Lagoons (346 hectares, 41°45'N 008°39'W), a complex of permanent and temporary freshwater lakes on the right bank of the Lima River in the north of the country; Estrela Mountain upper Plateau and upper Zêzere River (5,075 ha, 40°21'N 007°37'W), the upper reaches and plateau region of Portugal's highest mountain (1993m); 'Fajãs' of Caldeira and Cubres Lagoons (87 ha, 38º38'N 027º57'W), two small coastal lagoon systems formed by landslide processes off steep coastal cliffs on S. Jorge Island in the Azores Autonomic Region; Mira Minde Polje and related Springs (662 ha, 39°29'N 008°38'W), an important, flat karstic depression and associated subterranean hydrological system, springs, and caves; and Mondego Estuary (1,518 ha, 40º08'N 008º50'W), the estuary of the largest river that is wholly within Portugal. Portugal now has 17 Ramsar sites covering a surface area of 73,784 hectares, and the Convention as a whole has 1,601 Ramsar sites, covering 134,701,820 hectares.

Brief site descriptions, prepared from the Ramsar Information Sheets with the help of Dorothea August, and a number of photographs of the new sites, can be found below.

Bertiandos and S. Pedro of Arcos Lagoons. 02/12/05; Região Norte; 346 ha; 41°45'N 008°39'W. Natura 2000, Protected Landscape, partly National Ecological Reserve. A complex of permanent and temporary freshwater lakes on the right bank of the Lima River, hosting a broad range of 500 inventoried floristic and many fauna species. It is an important habitat for aquatic bird species for breeding, resting and migrating species, supporting amongst others Gallinula choropus, Alcedo athis and Ardea purpurea or Caprimulgus europaeus. It also supports two migrating fish species, Anguilla anguilla and Petromyzom marinus, that use the Estorãos River during the larval age and as an ecological corridor for the spawning sites located upstream. The strong relations between the area and the local population are part its cultural value, together with environmental education, leisure activities and outdoor recreation. Some of these activities may affect the ecological features, especially the agricultural developments of corn and rye-grass succession, with increasing abandonment of the pastures areas, and the intensification of agricultural production, including the spread of exotic species plantation (Eucalyptus globulus). Further impacts on the species composition and spread of some exotic species are caused by frequent forest fires and the cleaning of drainage trenches in the flooded space. Ramsar site no. 1613.

Estrela Mountain upper Plateau and upper Zêzere River. 02/12/05; Região Centro; 5,075 ha; 40°21'N 007°37'W. Biogenetic Reserve, Natural Park, Natura 2000 site. Comprises the upper mountain and plateau (up to 1,993m, the highest point in Portugal) as well as the Candeeira valley and parts of the Zêzere river valley, which is described as its own biogeographical sector, the "Estrellense", a transition zone between the temperate and mediterranean macrobioclimate. Due to high precipitation, there are various natural lakes, ponds, swamps, bogs, springs, brooks and rivers as well as mat-grass swards, shrublands, rocky environments and little areas of woodlands. The abiotic quality of the site is excellent, being mainly nutrient-poor and having very soft waters because of the high precipitation and the seepage from granite rocks. Thus flora and fauna include excellent examples of the endemic and rare taxa, such as Narcissus asturiensis or Lycopodium clavatum amongst the plants. Agro-pastoral systems are a tradionional activity in the area, which is also used for modern agriculture and foresty. Overgrazing, over-extraction of water for electricity, and uncontrolled rubbish dumping present protential threats. Ramsar site no. 1614.

'Fajãs' of Caldeira and Cubres Lagoons. 02/12/05; Azores Autonomic Region; 87 ha; 38º38'N 027º57'W. Natura 2000 site, Special Ecological Area. Comprising the Fajã do Cubres, the Fajã da Caldeira and a narrow coastal area connecting the two brackish coastal lagoons at the base of the steep sides of S. Jorge Island. The fajãs are areas created by landslide processes at the base of coastal cliffs. While the Caldeira Lagoon is connected with the ocean through a channel with tidal influence, the Cubres Lagoon,communicates only by percolation through the barrier with the sea. The site features variegated lagoon systems, unique for this region and highly uncommon on volcanic ocean islands, which provide important habitat for breeding and migrating birds such as Charadrius alexandrinus, Stema dougallii and Calonectris diomeda. The architecture and the testimonials of traditional agriculture form the historical and cultural value of the site, and one of the major religious celebrations of the Azores takes place in the Fajã da Caldeira. Presently the vast majority of the land is either used for pasture or completely abandoned, with the exception of some small farming and clam-catching activities. Ramsar site no. 1615.

The Fajãs

Fajã da Caldeira

Fajã do Cubres

Fajã do Cubres

Mira Minde Polje and related Springs. 02/12/05; Região Lisboa e Vale do Tejo; 662 ha; 39°29'N 008°38'W. Natura 2000 site, Natural Park. A subterranean hydrological system based on the polje, or flat, closed depression draining underground, situated in the country's most important limestone karstic region and part of the recharge area of the two most important karstic aquifers and karstic springs in Portugal. The flooding episodes with very high fluctuations of groundwater level are a rare example in the West Mediterranean biogeographic region. TheAlviela spring is one of the deepest in the world and is locally connected to a cave complex that represents the most significant fluvio-karstic phenomena in Portugal, one which supports several bat colonies with more than 5,000 bats in total. The Almonda spring is related with the most extensive Portuguese cave, an important Paleolithic site. The area features important habitat types under which temporary ponds, natural eutrophic lakes, and tall humid grasslands are the most abundant. Adverse effects are mainly caused in some places by water pollution, urban and industrial developments, and increasing tourism. There are educational activities at the underground interpretation centres in the Pena and Almonda Caves as well as the interpretation centre and Cave Bats Observatory at the Alviela Springs, which welcome up to 100,000 visitors per year. Ramsar site no. 1616.

Mondego Estuary. 02/12/05; Região Centro; 1,518 ha; 40º08'N 008º50'W; National Ecological Reserve, Important Bird Area. Comprises the estuary of the Mondego River as it passes around the Murraceira island, including intertidal areas, salt marshes, salt pans, reedbeds, rice fields and fish farms. This site is one of the main stopover and refuge areas for migrating birds along the northwestern coast of Portugal and is particularly important for waders, especially Recurvirostra avosetta and Phoenicopterus ruber. During the breeding season the site is regionally important for species such as Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and Little Tern Sterna albifrons. Aquaculture and fishing are the chief economic activities, which is focused on three migratory species of high economic value, the Sea lamprey, Allis shad, and Twaite shad. Traditional salt production has been decreasing or been transformed for aquaculture, which has led to a loss of suitable habitats for waders and other waterbirds. Potential threats come from increasing eutrophication due to intensive use of fertilisers and herbicides and the subsequent occurrence of macro-algae blooms. The neighbouring expanding harbour and the adjacent industrial region put further pressure on the site. Ramsar site no. 1617.

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