Atanasovsko Lake

- Bulgaria-

Lagoon of Life. Photo: © Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation

Lagoon of Life, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation
Lagoon of Life, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation


Atanasovsko Lake was designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) under the Ramsar Convention on 28-11-1984.

More about the site

Atanasovsko Lake is known as the “Birds’ paradise”. It is the richest place for birds in Bulgaria with 334 species. It is an important biodiversity hotspot in the Black Sea region laying on the bird migration flyway Via Pontica. To the south, the lake borders the urban part of the town of Burgas, while its northern part is approximately 10 km away from the town. The lake is 9.5 km long and 4.2 km at its wide. The altitude is between 1 m to 1 m below sea level.

The Lake is a shallow hyper-saline lagoon and one of the four lakes of the Burgas Wetland Complex. It is turned into a salt production site in 1906. Dikes and barriers split the lake into more than 170 pools of different sizes. Salt production is performed in a traditional and environmentally-friendly manner that does not harm the inhabitants of the reserve. This is a good example of how economic activity can have a beneficial rather than harmful effect thus protecting the conditions conducive to the existence of the richest biodiversity in the region.

Atanasovsko Lake is represented as the rarest ecosystem type for Bulgaria (coastal halophytic communities). The priority habitat 1150* Coastal lagoons cover 1458,82 ha. This is the largest compact area occupied by this habitat in Bulgaria, highly valuable for its relative area, its representativeness and its importance for nature conservation.

233 vascular plant species have been established in the Lake. Dominant among these is the marsh samphire (glasswort)(Salicornia europea), herbaceous seepweed (Suaeda maritima), saltwort (Salsola sp.), reed (Phragmites australis), lesser bulrush (Typha angustifolia), sea wormwood (Artemisia santonicum), widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), sea rush (Juncus maritimus), Sea aster (Aster tripolium), hairy smotherweed (Bassia hirsuta), Aeluropus littoralis, etc.

The main part of the Bulgarian populations of the Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), the Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis), and the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) breed in the Atanasovsko Lake and because of this it is the most important site for these species. The Lake is a very important staging, wintering and breeding area for migratory waterbirds, including globally threatened species such as Numenius tenuirostris, Pelecanus onocrotalus, P. crispus, Branta ruficollis, Aythya nyroca and Aquila clanga. It is also a major migratory bottleneck site, where huge numbers of soaring raptors and waterbirds pass overhead in autumn. Up to 240,000 storks, pelicans and cranes and up to 60,000 raptors fly over the site during autumn migration each year).

This is the site of Europe highest concentration during migration of the White pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), the Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), the Red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus).

In 2019, a new colony of Greater Flamingos settled in the lake and their numbers have increased to 3,000 birds in December 2022.

The Atanasovsko lake’s current ecosystem functions are a result of its modification at the beginning of the 20th century when the southern part of the lake was transformed into salinas, and in 1940 also the northern part. Thanks to the modifications, shallow basins of increasing salinity, separated by dikes of different sizes, predominate. In the lake periphery, one can find also fresh and brackish water ponds are overgrown by Phragmites australis, and Typha angustifolia.

Marketable goods from the lake are limited to salt production and lye selling. The former can’t compete with the global market salt price and with the increasing price of manual labour and energy. Relying only on these two products for revenue generation is not expected to bring economic benefits. The current LIFE project is working on increasing the added value from the two products and several business companies are being involved in this process. There is a big interest in the healing basins with mud and lye and if properly developed, this can reveal significant economic potential.

Regulating services could not be evaluated precisely but with the data available we could not prove either the purification effect of the lake or flood alleviation.

The cultural services represent the highest value of the lake. They cannot be presented monetary but from the number of projects being implemented for lake protection, its numerous conservation designations and important biological species and habitats, the huge number of scientific articles, artistic inspiration and a strong sense of place and communities interactions, it is obvious that the lake has an enormous value for the society.

Today the Atanasovsko Lake is an attractive place for sports and recreation, for arts and inspiration, festivals and holidays. The Lake plays an important role in the social life of the Burgas citizens because its medical features become famous as open-air SPA to people not only from Burgas and surrounding villages but also to Bulgarian and foreign tourists. In the summer months, thousands of people are visiting the pools with medical mud and lye.  It is an area for open plenaries for land art, photography, painting and other arts. It is a scene for photo sessions, video and filmmaking, and art performances.

Atanasovsko Lake is suitable for observations in all seasons, depending on what someone wants to see or do around the lake. In any season, it is possible to walk and exercise in the area of Southern Atanasovsko Lake – to cycle or run, to walk or just to enjoy nature. There are several cycling paths to the Lake.

For birdwatching can be visited the southern part of the Lake – the Avocet trail, named to one of the most characteristic and threatened lagoon’s avian inhabitants – Avocet. The trail was conducted by the functional division of the region into three main areas for a variety of visitors – kids, families, students, tourists, and photographers:

  • The reception area includes parking, garbage bins, a big information board with a detailed map of the Atanasovsko Lake Natura 2000 site and the birdwatching hide of RIEW Burgas.
  • The multifunctional area provides an opportunity for recreational, educational activities and art workshops and includes 11 bilingual thematic info boards and benches made of wooden logs and an outdoor classroom formed from 25 wooden logs and alleys covered with gravel.
  • Birdwatching area with two birdwatching kiosks and places for recreation. “The Nest” (from wicker produced by a local craft master) and “The Egg” (made from old salt workers’ boards) allow close rendezvous with birds without any disturbance.

The Avocet Trail is accessible and attended by people with disabilities.,27.468133,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x40a6938ec8456a1f:0x8b152763f718fb48!8m2!3d42.5311209!4d27.4703217

SymBiotic is a space of Atanasovsko Lake – a mixture between a museum and an information centre in the former salt workers’ wooden house, which brings together the exciting story of salt production and the most interesting information about the Lake. The space hosts the exhibition with the same name, as well as the SALT installation, a Marine Library and a ´salt corner’ with the most used salt-workers tools. The outside terrain is arranged as a resting area with hammocks, benches and tables. SymBiotic is located in the south part of the lake and is open for visitors in the summer season (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) only in the evening from 5-8 pm and during special events organized there,27.4885167,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x40a695bc9b0fe36b:0xd6a8a5b7b8e8dbe5!8m2!3d42.529157!4d27.4907054

A special interactive map for the Atanasovsko lake ( ) contains detailed information about the protected areas and all the opportunities that the lake offers as routes, bird watching, sports, photography and health.

Tourist activities, education, recreation, sports activities, etc., are carried out in the area following the management plan of the Atanasovsko Lake managed reserve and the prescribed protection measures.

Urbanizing, in particular, stands out as a significant threat to Atanasovsko Lake as according to the most recent Spatial Development Plan of the Municipality of Burgas (2014) urbanizing the southern shores of the Atanasovsko Lake is envisaged. The urbanising, with the subsequent expected increased water and noise pollution, and the increased human pressure resulting in increased disturbance to the wild birds will affect the whole southern part of the Atanasovsko Lake.

Maintaining the traditional extensive salt production is also a challenge t. Abandoning the salt production would corrupting of the natural values of Atanasovsko Lake and especially of the habitat of the Coastal lagoon.

Other pressures for the Lake and the habitat of Coastal lagoons in Atanasovsko Lake come from the change in water body conditions, floods, degraded connection with the sea, pollution from the surface waters and eutrophication.

The Management Plan for the Atanasovsko Lake Managed Reserve (2003 – 2013) is still operating, the new one is under preparation. It cover Ramsar Site Atanasovsko Lake.

There is a National Plan for the Conservation of the most important wetlands in Bulgaria (2015-2025) in which Atanasovsko Lake is a priority area.

Latest updates: on November 2022

Lagoon of Life, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation
Lagoon of Life. Photo: © Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation