A visit to the Mouth of the Isonzo River and Cona Island

A visit to the Mouth of the Isonzo River and Cona Island

1 July 2016


The Mouth of the Isonzo River and Cona Island Nature Reserve

On the 28th of May 2016, around 20 participants gathered in the Cona Island Visitor Centre to talk about wetlands, conservation and sustainable tourism in the area around the Mouth of the Isonzo River in Italy – northern tip of the Adriatic Sea.

A special celebration…

In March 2016, the Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy announced their intention of designating the Mouth of the Isonzo River and Cona Island (Foce dell’Isonzo – Isola della Cona) as a Ramsar Site. Despite the remaining steps to be listed as a Wetland of International Importance, the organisers were eager to showcase the importance of this site, famous for its rich birdlife but also very important in terms of flora and habitat diversity.

The event provided a platform for the exchange of experiences on the management of protected areas and Ramsar Sites in the area. Experiences from the Friuli Venezia Guilia region and Ramsar Sites in the Veneto region were presented drawing attention to management and conservation actions on-going in the area. Gordana Beltram, National Focal Point for the Convention in Slovenia and Chair of the Mediterranean Wetland Initiative (MedWet), also showcased the three Ramsar Sites in Slovenia and how they are managed. Ms Beltram highlighted the importance of cooperating with all sectors and the integrated implementation of polices such as National Wetland Policies for the good conservation and management of wetlands.

Sustainable tourism was also addressed through various interventions underlining the great opportunities for nature-based tourism in the region.  It was highlighted that although tourism can be a great opportunity, it can also constitute a great threat thereby emphasising the importance of the management of tourism. The Nature Reserve of the Isonzo River Mouth has become an important example of how to combine environmental safeguard and tourism. A number of experts contributed to the publication of the “Natural Reserve – Environment and Local Development” which provides important reflections on environmental conservation, education, management and sustainable tourism opportunities on the Reserve. 


Boat ride in the mouth of the Isonzo River

About the reserve 

Established in 1996, the Regional Nature Reserve of the Isonzo River Mouth covers an overall area of 2400 hectares along the last 15km of the river Isonzo. The Reserve includes in the north gravel fields and riparian forests which border the Isonzo River. Towards the south, forest patches alternate with wet meadows, freshwater marshes and reed beds until we reach the sea where sand islets, extensive sand flats and mudflats predominate. In spite of its limited size, the Reserve is a very interesting area thanks to the high degree of biodiversity. This is partly due to its geographical location on the northernmost edge of the Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea, along the border between the high and rocky coast of the Gorizia and Trieste Karst and the low sandy Venetian coasts. In addition, conservation actions have made it possible to create and maintain different kinds of habitats and their species. Learn more here.


The semi-wild Camargue horses are free to range in the wetland.

The celebration was hosted in the modern facilities of the Cona Island Visitor Centre, powered through photovoltaic panels and fitted with a phytodepuration system. The Reserve, currently managed by the cooperative association ROGOS, receives thousands of visitors a year including a great number of school classes. The area provides important educational opportunities through its interactive museum, educational paths and hides. The semi-wild Camargue horses, introduced in the early 1990’s in the Reserve, are free to range in the wetland grazing and naturally maintaining a number of habitats as well as occasionally providing horseback-riding excursions for some visitors. Not far from the centre is the duck museum and bar “El Pettirosso” where visitors can enjoy some lunch while contemplating wildlife behind its large windows. This site is also important for extensive scientific research and monitoring, carried out by the Cona Island Biological Station. The publication “Nature Reserve of the Region Friuli Venezia Guilia” by Fabio Perco, Pierpaolo Merluzzi, Kajetan Kravos of Biological Station provides a concise contemplation of the history and environmental features of the Reserve.


"Il ripistrino” - a former farmed area restored to a seasonal freshwater wetland (the Mouth of the Isonzo River and Cona Island Nature Reserve)

Ramsar Sites in Friuli Venezia Gulia 

The designation and effective management of wetlands in this region are important indications of the commitment of the Italian government and local authorities to implementing the Ramsar Convention and the conservation of wetlands especially in light of the studies showing a 10% loss in the wetlands of the Mediterranean between 1975 and 2005 (State of the World’s Wetlands and their Services to People, 2015). This designation would represent the third Ramsar Sites in the region Friuli Venezia Gulia along with Valle Cavanata (Site N° 169) and Laguna di Marano: Foci dello Stella (Site N° 190).

This celebration was also an important opportunity to underline the relevance of a conservation strategy within Upper Adriatic area. The Reserve represents an important part of the network of wetlands in this region key for the conservation of threatened animal and plant species and biodiversity on national and international levels.

The Ramsar Secretariat thanks the organisers for their generous invitation to this celebration and encourages the Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea to undertake the final steps for the listing of the site as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. 

Report by Elise Allély-Fermé