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S’Albufera, the largest and most important wetland area in the Balearics, is a former lagoon separated from the sea by a belt of dunes, which for many centuries – but especially in the last two as a result of human influence – has filled up with sediments converting it into an extensive flood plain. The Natural Park affords protection to some 1708 hectares of marshes and dunes.
S´Albufera traces its origins back some 18 million years, but the present wetland was formed less than 100,000 years ago. The current sea dunes are even more recent, being around 10,000 years old.
The basis of S´Albufera´s ecological richness is water. The virtually permanent inundation of much of the Natural Park provides favourable conditions for vegetation growth and variety according to the depth of water, proximity of the sea and type of terrain. The range of plant species gives cover and food to a multitude of animals, which in turn are food for many more. Thanks to the abundance of water the diversity of living organisms (known as biodiversity by scientists) is very high, indeed S´Albufera’s suite of ecosystems supports the greatest biodiversity of any site in the Balearics.
S´Albufera derives a large part of its water from rain falling on some 640 square kilometres of north and central Mallorca, by way of seasonal streams (“torrents”) and springs from subterranean aquifers, known as “ullals”. A relatively small amount of seawater intrusion in summer nevertheless has a particular effect on the vegetation and fauna.
The biological description of vegetation must begin with the dominant reed (Phragmites australis), saw-sedge (Cladium mariscus) and reedmace (Typha latifolia), large emergent plants growing in the flooded areas. Also important are the species which live submerged in the canals, small lagoons (known as ´llisers´) and flooded marshes. Among the most notable we may find fennel pondweed (Potomogeton pectinatus), spineless hornwort (Ceratophyllum submersum) or duckweeds (Lemna sp.) The more brackish areas support rushes (Juncus species) and glassworts (Salicornia and Arthrocnemum species). The main trees are white poplar (Populus alba), elm (Ulmus minor) and tamarisk (Tamarix africana).
We must not overlook the wide variety of fungi recorded: 66 species so far. One of these, the toadstool Psathyrella halofila, was discovered new to science in 1992 and is still only known from S’Albufera.
We can also note the wealth of fish: 29 species, the majority marine in origin. The most numerous are the eel (Anguilla anguilla) and a variety of mullet species. Among the amphibians the marsh frog (Rana perezi) population stands out, and reptiles include the water snake (Natrix maura) and European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis). The most abundant mammals are the rodents (rats and mice) and bats (8 species), including important rarities such as the Barbastelle bat (Barbasterella barbastrellus).
The number and diversity of invertebrates is enormous. The most notable groups are the dragonflies, flies (including endemic species), spiders and, above all, the moths – of which more than 300 species are currently known.
However, the most celebrated and appreciated group is the birds. Birds which fly effortlessly between marshlands separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres find food and shelter amongst the lagoons and canals. S´Albufera is the only site in the archipelago where over two-thirds the total number of species recorded in the Balearics have been seen, 271 different species.
The 61 species breeding in the Park comprise both sedentary species (remaining throughout the year) and summer visitors which migrate south once breeding is over.
A third group comprises visitors from the north which come for the coldest months of winter. Large flocks of ducks (shoveler, wigeon, teal...), a range of heron species, starlings... Every winter the numbers of these main species comfortably exceed 10,000 individuals.
Migrants are species which visit the Park in the course of their journeys, remaining in transit for just a few days. They include substantial numbers of garganey, ruff and other waders, hirundines...
Lastly there are the vagrants, or occasional visitors, such as cranes, glossy ibis or spoonbills. The attached list gives the most interesting species for visitors and for nature conservation.
The Balearic Government declared S´Albufera a Natural Park on 28th February 1988, constituting the first naturally protected area in the Balearics. This declaration authorises the conservation and restoration of the Park´s natural and cultural values, the empowerment of educational and scientific activities and contact between man and nature, as well as the Park’ss harmonisation in the local and Mallorca-wide socioeconomic contexts, with its principal function the conservation of nature.
S’Albufera de Mallorca. Special Protection Area for Birds
In 1979, the European Commission adopted the 79/409/CE Directive for the conservation of wild birds. Based on the premise that birds are a Europe-wide heritage shared by all, the Directive sets out to promote the conservation and suitable management of all wild birds living within the European Community. Within it protection measures are defined, and restrictions applied for quarry species and the sale of wild birds. In addition, the Directive identifies habitat protection as a prerequisite for species protection. At such sites, known as Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAs), measures are adopted to avoid any habitat deterioration or other disturbance which may affect the birds. S’Albufera has been a SPA from the moment Spain became a member of the European Community.
S’Albufera de Mallorca and the Ramsar Convention
December 1989 the Council of Ministers registered S´Albufera de Mallorca in the
list of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (with special
reference to water birds), better known as the Ramsar Convention (Iran 1971).
The governments which ratified it committed themselves to promote the protection
and the balanced use of wetlands.
Visiting hours at the Park are from 09.00h to 18.00h between 1st April and 30th September, and from 09.00h to 17.00h between 1st October and 31st March,
A VISITING PERMIT IS REQUIRED which can be obtained (FREE) at the Reception Centre (open 09.00h to 16.00h.)
For group visits (more than 15 people) a special permit
is required and this must be applied for in advance, please enquire at the
(open 09.00h to 16.00 - Tel.: +34 971 89 22 50). Entry to the Park is resticted to groups of under 30 people at all times.
ACCESS TO THE PARK IS ON FOOT OR BY
BICYCLE. Cars can
be parked in the side-streets of residential areas adjacent to the park entrance
or in the dedicated parking area opposite the Hotel Parc Natural.
People with mobility problems should seek special access arrangements by telephoning or faxing the Park
(+34 971 89 22 50 - 9 to 16h. only - Fax: +34 971 89 21 58).
Respect nature and the values which have made this protected area possible.
The gathering of flowers, plants, animals or their remains is not permitted.
· Always move around using the paths indicated, at slow speed on bicycles and respect the existing signposting.
· Bicycles with more than two wheels are not permitted.
· Respect the Park´s visiting hours.
· Noise disturbs animals and the other visitors. MOVE AROUND IN SILENCE.
· It is not permitted to eat in the hides or to have picnics in the Park. In all cases, occupy the tables at Sa Roca for brief periods only.
· Sporting activities are not permitted in the Park (jogging, horse riding, mountain biking, etc...).
· Domestic animals (especially dogs) frighten the fauna. Their entrance to the Park is not permitted.
· In the case of a breach of regulations Park personnel may revoke the visiting permit.
· Share in the Conservation of the park by making known to us any suggestions you have for the improvement of this protected natural area.
S'ALBUFERA GEOLOGY.. long ago
S'Albufera is one of the most striking geomorphological landscapes of Majorca, its formation being a consequence of the geological processes which created the Island.
The emergence of Majorca as an island is relatively recent in geological terms, dating from the Upper Tertiary Era about 18 million years ago. Since then the coastline has changed repeatedly, due to several periods of sea level fluctuation. S'Albufera is one of the areas affected by these processes.
In the Miocene, one of the periods of the Tertiary Era, the whole plain of Sa Pobla was flooded, due to a rise in the sea level. Coral reefs, similar to those in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, developed in these shallow marine waters. A few million years later the Straits of Gibraltar closed and the Mediterranean sealevel fell rapidly due to evaporation. Then the Mediterranean was reduced to a series of salt lakes, but by the end of the Tertiary Era, in the Pliocene, Gibraltar opened once again, allowing the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to flood the low-lying Mediterranean area.The formation of small brackish lagoons in the plain of Sa Pobla and Inca dates from these times. This geological process, the sedimentary deposits of clay, result in a coastal lagoon having a relatively brief life (in geological, thought not in human terms) due to dessication. If it had not been for the continual subsidence in this area during the Miocene and Pleistocene, the coastal lagoon of S'Albufera would have disappeared.
Glaciation in the last Quarternary Era caused great fluctuations in the sea level, alternately flooding and drying S'Albufera and other areas of the plain of Majorca. About 100000 years ago (in the Riss Glacial Period) the formation of a sandy coast gives the first indication of the emergence of the current S'Albufera.
A study of the sedimentation of S'Albufera has allowed geologists to determine that there are epochs in which salt water predominated, and other periods -of maybe centuries- when the water was almost, or even completely fresh. During these fresh water periods, layers of peat were deposited. These variations were a consequence of slight changes in the sea level, as well as of the increase of fresh water flowing into S'Albufera from streams or springs from the plain of Sa Pobla.
The landscape of S'Albufera has varied considerably during different times. At the peak of higher water levels, in the last 10000 years, it reached the Roman Amphitheatre at Alcudia, the whole side of the Murterar and beyond Son Fe, to where the Alcudia road runs nowadays; to the South it reached the Pont Gros and the Punta de S'Amarador and to the East up to Ca N'Eixut and Son Bosc.
During Roman times the water level was about 2-3 metres higher than today. Then S'Albufera became a succession of relatively shallow ponds, linked by canals. The pond called L'Estany dels Ponts had an approximate depth of 7-8 metres.
Historical documents record the condition of S'Albufera in more recent years, such as Berard's description (1789) or the one made by the engineer A. Lopez (1859), from which we have taken the information for a reconstruction in the 19th century.
Water is the basic element of a landscape and ecosystem such as S'Albufera. This is why it merits a chapter in itself- it determines everything else.
There are three sources of water: flowing from the Island countryside, underground springs and seawater.
S'Albufera is the delta area of a large drainage area.
The rain that falls in this basin passes along various routes: either sinking into the substrata, evaporating, nourishing the vegetation or swelling the streams (Muro and Sant Miquel) which flow into S'Albufera. These two streams carry 20-40 cubic Hm. per year (the Sant Miquel 16 and the Muro 4-8). The bigger stream, the Sant Miquel, originates in the springs, Ses Ufanes de Gabellí, which flow periodically from a poit about 10 Km. NW of S'Albufera.
In fact, only a limited amount of water from both streams enters S'Albufera. During the last century embankments were raised along these streams, and thus by canalization their flow is directed to the sea so that it does not flood the farmland. You can see this canal system on the map. One area, called Es Forcadet, is allowed to fllod- a triangular area before the two streams join the Gran Canal. If the flood of the streams coincides with a high tide, two lateral canals at the mouth of the Gran Canal (called Sol and Siurana) cope with the overflow, channelling it to S'Albufera. There is another conduit at the same latitude as the Punta des Vent, which passes under the es Mig road via a floodgate into the Canal Loco and the Colombar. There are other floodgates and conduits at different points of the streams. In some places the embankments are in a bad condition, allowing water to flood arable land, which greatly annoys the farmers.
Some fresh (or slightly brackish) water comes from underground. An unknown number of underground springs flow into the farmland, mainly in the South. It is estimated that water from this source totals between 25 and 30 cubic Hm. per annum. It is mainly this water which flows through the canals towards two outlets: the Pont del Anglesos (The bridge of the English), where the Sol and Siurana flow into the Gran Canal, and L'estany dels Ponts, which flows out mainly through the Canal Ferragut. To allow the water from the SW to cross the Gran Canal there is a series of conduits from the Canal del Sol to the Canal Siurana, passing underneath the two tracks and the Gran Canal. These conduits have been in operation for more than a century. The outlet of one of them can be seen as a powerful jet into the Siurana from the Pont de Sa Roca.
Seawater flows into S'Oberta at high tide and into L'Estany dels Ponts. The balance between salt and fresh water is critically important for vegetation and determines the entire ecosystem of the area.
There problems of pollution associated with the agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides. Fortunately the waters from nearby built-up areas that were a source of pollution are now almost totally treated.
The plantlife of S'Albufera is determined by two decisive elements: water and salt, ecological factors of obvious importance. Human influence has also had a discernible effect on the variety and evolution of the flora of S'Albufera.
Environmental factors (climate, soil, etc...) act together, and in the case of S'Albufera reinforce each other: the winter and spring rains coincide with increased flows from subterranean sources and from the springs around S'Albufera.
In summer the lack of rainfall and the high temperatures increase evaporation and therefore salt concentration in many places.
The human influence is important: dessication, the construction of canals, embankments, the introduction and conservation of species, the cultivation of farmland and its later abandon are all factors directly influencing plant-life. There is another factor related to man which has influenced the ecosystem immensely, namely fire. Until recently, the reeds were usually burned off after harvesting, and sometimes the fires have burnt all across S'Albufera. The long-term effects included the killing of many trees such as tamarisks and elms. Although fire can be a useful tool, its long-term effects from a broader perspective have been very damaging when abused.
To present the plantlife of S'Albufera we have grouped together the plants that share the same habitat. We will follow an imaginary journey from the beach into the interior and describe how different communities of plants make a home in a variety of circumstances.
THE BEACH AND DUNES
The coast of S'Albufera is sandy, with a narrow beach and a series of dunes. The sand is dry and loose allowing water to filter, easily moved by the winds, and poor in nutrition for plants.
The first plant we find on the beach is the wrongly named alga, actually a flowering plant, the Possidonia. It is a species which forms submarine posidonia prairies, wahsing up onto the beach when it dies. It is very fibrous and ends up formig earthen-coloured balls which wash up onto the beach, always a fascinating discovery for children playing on the beach.
Nothing much grows on the beach, as the breakers make it impossible for anything to grow. A few metres from the shore we find the long, yellow leaves of the marram and other Graminaceceous species, such as Elymus Sarctus and Sporobolus arenenarius. Growing nearby we can observe two different species of short herbs: the Medicago marina and Lotus creticus, with bent stems and compound leaves -at the beginning of spring these bloom with spectacular yellow flowers. The most beautifoul flower on the beach blossoms in summer: the large, white, beautifully-scented Seadaffodil. The best knows, if not the best loved plant, remembered by bare-footed bathers is the Seaholly, an umbellifer, small but with powerful thorns. Many insects are attracted to its blue petaled flowers. Also abundant are the Sea rocket and a kind of stock, the Matthiola sinuata, with big, purple flowers.
These are the salt-Resistent plants which inhabit the first crest of the dunes. Further inland we start to find woody plants wich bind the sand with their roots, spreading widely to gather the water they need. These underground networks can be clearly seen where the dunes are affected by erosion or the passage of man. These types of plants play an important role in binding the sand into more permanent dunes.One unique local plant, not found anywhere else in the Balearic Islands, is the prickly juniper. Beyond the first juniper bushes we arrive at the pine trees, with umbrella pines, mastic trees, rosemary (the typical scent of the Mediterranean), heather (Erica multiflora) (with spectacular sprays of pink flowers in autumn), mock privet, Mediterranean mezereon, asparagus etc... Lianas grow amongst the bushes, and masses of Balearic sarsaparilla form a spectacular and impenetrable tangle unknown elsewhere on the Island. Also to be found are the honeysuckle and the tiny wild madder with its bitter leaves. These dunes are also notable for a sort of thyme exclusively found in Majorca and Menorca called Thymelaea hirsuta. This is a bush of interwoven, hairy leaves which is extremely rare. In spring a diversity of orchids, with tiny and beautiful flowers, bloom amongst the pines.
THE PLANTLIFE OF THE WETLAND
Here, just behind the dunes, where there is a clay, often water logged subsoil, we find the typical wetland flora.
The plants growing nearest to the seashore are the ones best adapted to a salty environment. The most important is the Salicornia, with joined fleshy leaves, sometimes reddish in colour. Besides this, Sea purslane is often ot be found, identfied by its opposite silvery leaves. In areas that are often flooded but with low salinity we find the rushes. There are several kinds of rushes, always with tall, spiky stems. Their leaves are scarcely visible, although they perform a particular vital function, as they accumulate the salt absorbed the plant, eventually dropping off and ridding the plant of excess sodium chloride. This is a densely-vegetated area, forming a mosaic of the various species. This patchiness is due to slight topographical variations, which cause changes in humidity, evaporation, salt-accumulation, etc.
In the fossil dunes (ancient dunes) we find a particular plantlife: formed by groups of Scirpus holoschoenus (from the rush family), Plantago coronopus (from the plantain family) and pine groves of varying sizes. Here too we find the rare blooms of orchids such as the mirror orchid, etc. For a few weeks the dunes are covered by a beautiful carpet of thousands of these tiny flowers. Nearby Orchis palustris. Orchids and other rare plants are protected and to pick or uproot them is illegal -as well as immoral.
Areas which are permanently flooded by fresh-water are covered with a thick mass of reeds and Cladium mariscus (a plant with sharp, ribbon like leaves from the sedge family). These two plants totally dominate the lanscape of S'Albufera and form the basis of the ecosystem -by their dominance they actually limit the diversity and number of animal species, so it is necessary to curb their growth. Frequently, especially beside the roads, bellbines, with grouped leaves and white flowers are entwined around these plants.
There are aquatic plants too -the Potamogeton pectinatus being probable the most numerous, identifible by its hairlike leaves. The Ceratophyllum demersum is an attractive plant with leaves growing vertically from small bright red stems. The Chara and water-cress and Zanichellia palustris, with tiny leaves, are often to be seen.
In fresher, calmer waters the surface is often covered with a thick soup of duckweed. The greater bullrush of cat's tail (still gathered to use in handicrafts), the branched bur-reed and the lesser bullrush grow along the canals.
Smooth-leaved elms and poplars have been planted along the embankments and roadsides, forming small, rather strange, covering, deciduous woods. With them also grow hawthorn and bramble, which bears the delicious fruit so loved by walkers and birds, the periwinkle, lilac-coloured and windmill shaped, also the creeping cinquefoil with yellow flowers and palmate leaves.
Here and there stand Tamarix africana (of the tamarisk family) which have survived the fires.
Biel Perelló & Jeroen Veraart
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