Mediterranean wetlands - water jewels of the Adriatic islands
On the 2nd of February the whole world celebrates World wetlands day. Wetlands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the whole Mediterranean and Europe in general. The most important convention which protects the wetlands of Europe is Ramsar convention, named after the Iranian city of Ramsar where it was signed in 1971. This important intergovernmental treaty represents the basic grounds for international cooperation of 154 signatory countries for protection and sustainable management of wetlands. According to the Ramsar convention there are 40 types of wetland habitats, including sea wetlands (bogs on the coasts, shallow barrier reefs), river estuaries, lakes and marshes by the lakes, streams and rivers, real swamps and artificially made wetlands such as saltworks, gravel pits and ponds.
Pond on the island of Pag with developed vegetation on its shores.
Karst ponds are the most important and most numerous wetlands. On lots of adriatic islands they are the only freshwater habitats and they are practically islands within islands. These are the only places on islands on which the rich freshwater flora and fauna like aquatic vegetation, aquatic insects (beetles, dragonflies) and amphibians can survive. With the disappearance of the ponds the large, almost unexplored diversity of plants and animals is lost.
In the past, the wetlands were considered unnecessary and sometimes even bad for human health. (the most famous example is the spreading of malaria via mosquitoes). They were heavily canalised, filled in, devastated and dried out. When the ecological awareness of the 20th century came to be, that's when the importance of the ponds became recognised.
Žmanska lakes - one of the largest intermittent lakes on Adriatic islands
Adriatic islands are irreplacable parts of the natural heritage of the Republic of Croatia. With over 1200 islands, islets and rocks, Croatia is one of the top countries of the world when it comes to the number of islands, and second in the Mediterranean, right behind Greece. There are only 48 inhabited islands but throughout the history that number was larger. When the people inhabited these islands they changed their look and adapted the karst terrain to their needs. Almost all adriatic islands are made of limestone and that's why surface waters are rare. To survive on the islands without much water people built wells, ponds and other water bodies. These ponds had different purposes, such as sources of drinking water for humans and their livestock, places to bath, washing clothes etc. Ponds lost their primary function of being a source of drinking water when the water system were built and when the shipping of water from the mainland via ships was organised. Ponds became obsolete and seemingly unnecesarry when people were beginning to leave the traditional island way of living, especially livestock farming. Habitats that strived for decades, even centuries, are now forgotten and deserted, sometimes even filled in and devastated on purpose. Even though they are protected through the Ramsar convention, disappearance and devastation of wetlands on adriatic islands is a common phenomenon.
Example of eutrofication - island Pag
During the last year Association Hyla in a cooperation with WWF Adria, Association BIOM, Croatian Biological Research Society and IUCN South-Eastern Europe, with the support of Ministry of environmental and nature protection and financed by the MAVA, Fondation pour la Nature, began one of the biggest projects about wetlands in Croatia ever. The main goal of the project is to further evaluate adriatic islands and especially wetlands on them. Even though the adriatic islands cover only 3259 squared kilometres (5 % of the whole area of Croatia), flora and fauna on them are extremely rich in species – over 60 % of butterflies, 35 % of amphibians and 70 % of reptiles of Croatia can be found there.
The project is a continuation and sort of a replication of a project carried out by the WWF Greece during which the wetlands on the islands of Greece were listed and evaluated.
First phase of the project is evaluation of the wetlands on islands (primarily ponds) through the system of listing nad comparing todays situation and data from history. It is well known that the wetlands are disapearing but with this step we will for the first time ever get the current situation (primarily number) of wetlands on adriatic islands, and for every island separately. These results will be the basis for all future research and evalutaion of wetlands on the Adriatic and wider.
The second phase of the project is visiting the islands and evaluating the wetlands, in accordance to already developed methodology of WWF Greece and an additional methodology which will be developed for the evaluation and prioritisation of the most important wetlands on the islands and for every island separately. During our visits we will gather important data about flora and fauna of wetlands and get more knowledge about the biodiversity of islands. In this phase we will also make a web of volunteers, associations and schools which will be the key point for long-term protection and conservation of adriati wetlands.
Dugo polje pond - one of the largest wetland on the island of Dugi otok
During the next two years, through our professional and promotional activities our plan is to give the wetlands on adriatic island greater importance.