Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds

- Italy -

© Tato Grasso, Wikimedia Commons

Trapani and Paceco salt ponds, photo by Click Gianluca, Wikimedia Commons
© Click Gianluca, Wikimedia Commons

Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds were designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) under the Ramsar Convention on 19-10-2017.
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It is a wetland area where they are still producing sea salt by ancient methods, along with the Sicilian coast that faces the African continent, 150 km far from it at the nearest point.

Millions of birds leave Africa, from Tunisia, to reach the European continent. They pass over Sicily and most of them arrive along the Trapani coast where they find the salt ponds, the marsh area, and a natural habitat. This site gives them a place to stop and recover the energy lost during the difficult sea crossing.

The Sicily route is one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the Western Palearctic: in case of a loss of energy, birds have nowhere to stop, and they simply fall into the water and die. Other sea crossings (such as the Gibraltar Straits, Bosporus Straits) are less wide compared with the Sicily route. For these birds, the Salt Ponds of Trapani and Paceco are a vital place.

The same thing happens during the migration to Africa during the autumn; they can recover their lost energy before facing the long journey over seawater with less risk.

The endemic plants, insects, particular habitats, and the magic views, are a mix that has a unique attraction together with the presence of birds during every season.

Spoonbill, flamingos, Black-winged stilt, Avocet, Shelduck, Platycleis Drepanensis, Calendula maritima Guss,. Teia dubia

The institution of the Reserve saved the salt ponds from elimination: urban and port plans in the middle of the nineties of the last century called for new developments to cover the area.

Before 1995, many salt ponds had been eliminated in the same way. The original extent of the area was much larger than now, but the protection given by the regional law with the institution of the Natural Reserve stopped any other plans. Salt production, thanks also to the promotion done by the management of the Reserve, increased slowly year after year. The same happened with tourism, which was completely absent in the area at the arrival of the management authority (1996). It has been increasing in the last 15 years, with of course lower tourist numbers presently and in the past two years due to the decreasing number of flights coming in to the nearby airport with other localities.

The tourism brought new economic initiatives, such as B&Bs inside the Reserve (in area B) and other related services.

In the area, there is also the practice of garlic cultivation with a particular property of the garlic that makes it unique and very appreciated.

Windmills were used in the past to move the water from one water pond to another. Gradually, due to the loss of interest in the salt and the new transformations, technologies and competition with globalization, these ancient mills have been abandoned and are now in a bad condition. The cost to rebuild and maintain them is high and the owner cannot afford this.

In the past, with a regional law in 1996, the government assigned funds to recover the windmills. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) approved the entire project, but in the end, the funds have been reallocated to another issue.

The area is strictly linked to salt production. As a consequence, such an important activity, done only with natural elements (wind, sun, seawater), can change the disposal of water/food for most of the animals living in the area. Moreover, the yearly rainfall is very low, and a change in the salt production can make the area dry for most of the year, with very bad consequences for many bird species and other fauna and flora.

There is a visitor center, located near a windmill, which is rented and not owned by the Reserve. Visits at the Reserve always start from the center with an overview provided of all the aspects: conservation, management of the area for plants and animals, production of salt, garlic and other subjects. There are toilets inside, not in the Reserve but on mostly private property. Visits are guided by the personnel of the Reserve, but there is no possibility at the moment to introduce a ticket (for disposal of the regional government), so presently it is not possible to involve others in the visitor activities.

Tourism, as said before, increased at a great average from a zero level at the beginning of the Reserve management in 1996. Yearly, there are about 10,000/12,000 visitors guided by the management team, but the area is visited by a higher number of passengers who are impossible to check; many tourists stop along the way or go to private structures existing inside the Reserve.

Unfortunately, the easy access to the area has increased the problem with tourism. Very few respect the limit/fence/advertisement, and most of them violate any simple rule and invade the area, disturbing the fauna.

Most of the salt ponds are private property, so the management of the Reserve cannot substitute for the owner in creating fences along the border and cannot oblige anyone to do that. Those made in the past are not in good condition or have been destroyed by fires.

At the arrival in 1996, the rough roads of the Reserve were open and accessible to everybody, with a tremendous use of the area for every kind of activity, including illegal activities. The closure of the access to cars slowly reduced the negative human pressure in most of the area, with a very positive effect on fauna and flora. The management authority applies, with many difficulties, the rules of the Reserve, and this now – most of the time – is enough to reduce residual negative situations that do, however, still exist and press badly upon the area.

Moreover, the management authority requests the application of art. 6 of the Habitat Directive with great difficulties. Most of the time the local administration doesn’t respect such an important Directive and has approved, outside the Reserve, a new project that negatively affects the area, even from a distance.

The maintenance of the status quo, and the recovery of the degraded areas, are very difficult and are the main conservation challenges, together with very difficult controls of the surrounding area where – in the absence of any laws that limit new interventions (infrastructure/buildings/factories and others) – the risk is the increase of the negative pressure existing prior to 1996. It would be marvelous to be able to buy land inside the Reserve or at the border and thus to be able to avoid new interests or negative pressures, mainly by agriculture.

No, the management plan of the Natura 2000 site exists, but it is not detailed, not updated, and doesn’t have true recognition by the law to be respected by another administration/plan.

Latest updates of these informations: July 2020

© Lucas Migliorelli / Wikimedia Commons