Saltpans conservation in the Mediterranean region

The salt water, that giant molecule which coexists with the earth from its origins, can become much more useful for humanity thanks to its many virtues, not only the virtues of the seas or the oceans, but also about the one that is on the Earth, in the form of saltpans or salinas.

Salt has been a product that has been appreciated and produced since antiquity. Its interest was not only in its use as a condiment, but also in its value for the conservation of food.


Salt in Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta). Photo: J. Xuereb


Despite being among the most misunderstood natural resources, Mediterranean saltpans are often part of larger wetland complexes. Located mostly in estuaries and within relative proximity of cities, well managed saltpans provide a complex set of ecosystem services. They support biodiversity thanks to their vital importance for the survival of numbers of species, including migratory birds, and they maintain a great diversity of fauna and flora. They provide high quality products used in gastronomy, as well as in biotechnological businesses. Wherever you can see huge mounds of salt crystals, saltpans are a natural attraction for birdwatching tourism and a source inspiration for creativity.


The attractive Piran salpans in Slovenia. Photo:


Saltpans also generate jobs and ensure livelihoods for local populations. These artificial ecosystems are the home of the practice of traditional salt harvesting from water using natural evaporation, which has been mutually beneficial for both humans and nature for thousands of years. This practice has passed through generations and been preserved over several centuries and is still carried out with classical saltpan methods and tools.


Traditional salt harvesting in Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta). Photo: J. Xuereb


”Saltscapes are adapted natural systems that encapsulate altered aquatic spaces with the explicit intent of harvesting salt through solar evaporation. Sea salt ponds in estuaries are production landscapes adapted by human creative capacity to align the limitless power of the sun with the abundant existence of sea water in a complex process comprising evaporation, geochemical reactions, manual intensive labor and immemorial cultural practices, which have withstood the test of time by taking advantage of some of the most fundamental laws of nature”, says Carlos Balsas, an Urban and Regional Planning graduate from the University of Aveiro, Portugal.


Salt pans of Trapani, Italy. Photo: Wikimedia


Saltpans are under threat

Unfortunately, nowadays saltpans are often mismanaged or simply abandoned. Human activities such as water abstraction, habitat destruction, and unsustainable tourism, together with climate changes impacts such as sea level rise and coastal erosion, affect the existence of these ecosystems and their ecological values.

The saltpans are exceptionally important ecosystems for the preservation of the natural environment. Only good practices to protect them will be able to allow these ecosystems to continue providing their services for humans and wildlife.

Involving local stakeholders, such as NGOs, saltworkers, local authorities, etc., in conservation actions of the Mediterranean saltpans, maintaining their ecosystem services and strengthening their values, improving salt harvesting activities in sustainable ways, and building stronger links with wetlands, is a central aspect to the work of different organizations in the region.


Overarching activities addressing wetland conservation in the Mediterranean region

Through the project “Overarching activities addressing wetland conservation in the Mediterranean region”, funded by the MAVA Foundation, Birdlife International and Tour du Valat with their Mediterranean partners have joined forces to save the precious saltpans in the Mediterranean region. The project addresses the threats affecting three pilot sites: Ghar el Melah (Tunisia), Oristano (Italy), and Ulcinj Salina (Montenegro). It also seeks to minimize the impact at other key Mediterranean saltpans in need of better management, restoration and monitoring.

Over the three years (2017-2019), the project aims:

  • to support sharing of best practices and restoration measures applied at the pilot sites and others where appropriate;
  • to coordinate efforts with other existing saltpan restoration and promotion initiatives;
  • to create the capacity within the partnership to define a multi-year saltpan recovery project which can be submitted to an external donor during the 2018-2019 period, one which can leverage funds and catalyze further action and cooperation in other Mediterranean priority wetlands/saltpans such as the Gediz Delta (Turkey), Cabo de Gata (Spain) and others;
  • to support priority Mediterranean wetlands, and especially saltpans, to develop them as functional natural habitats that support healthy populations of migratory and non-migratory birds in association with responsible economic activities and in a manner that can be replicated throughout the region; and
  • to promote the uptake of best practices through communication actions in the Mediterranean and international targeted advocacy.


For more information about the project, please contact Iván Ramírez, the project manager, from Birdlife International, at


More information

Saltpan Recovery Project led by Birdlife International

Spain’s traditional saltpans: an unlikely bird haven

Read our previous articles:

Mediterranean Salinas: Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo in Malta

Mediterranean Salinas: Sečovlje in Slovenia