Are you fond of flamingos? Partial to Pelicans? Then the Ulcinj Salina is sure to make you flutter. Unfortunately, this incredible place is under threat from the Montenegrin government who want to turn it into a luxury hotel complex, complete with a golf course.
The Ulcinj Salina is a complex of man-made salt plans that cover a 1500-hectare site on the coast of southwest Montenegro. Occasional home to over 250 species of migratory birds (over half of the species found in the whole of Europe) it is affectionately known as “The Heathrow of the Bird World” because of the vast numbers of pelicans, spoonbills, flamingos, and birds of prey that stop off there to refresh during the migratory journeys.
The salina is one of the largest in the Mediterranean and was re-shaped by man to harvest salt back in the 1830’s. At its peak, the salina employed over 600 people and contributed significantly to the local economy. A grid of salt pans was created and salt water was pumped into them as sweet water was pumped out. The water would sit in the pans and gradually evaporate, leaving behind salt that would then be harvested and processed. This, as well as the yearly flooding and gradual drying of the ponds, created a valuable wetland habitat for an incredibly valuable and diverse selection of waders and waterbirds.
Then, after 90 years of successful salt production, everything changed. The production of salt was privatised and the new company ‘Eurofond’ purchased 75% of the shares in Ulcinj Salina for just EUR 800,000. Please note that Eurofond only purchased the company that produced salt, not the land, despite their belief that they purchased 15sqm of the salina. Since then, the owner of Eurofond, Veselin Barovic has deliberately not invested a penny into the salina in an attempt to see it fall into a state where its environmental, social, touristic, and economic value is lost beyond repair. The last salt was extracted in 2012 and since then the pumps and pools of the salina have sat deserted, slowly deteriorating in a way that means within the next two years, it will not longer be able to accommodate the birds that rely on it.
Over the subsequent years, criminals have stolen the pumps and damaged the infrastructure meaning that the circulation of water within the system has been compromised. This has led to a drop in water levels and a decrease in the levels of salt water meaning that birds that use the land to nest and feed, are not finding the environment that they require.
Since 2011, Eurofond has been trying to sell the Salina to investors by pitching it as the perfect place to develop a luxury resort, complete with a golf course, spa, and marina for luxury yachts. And the value of the land? EUR 150 million euros- 180 times more than Eurofond paid for the company responsible for producing salt. Again, I need to point out that Eurofond only acquired the rights to produce salt, they did not acquire the land but now they are trying to sell the land for an enormous profit, and the expense of the local people and environment. Furthermore, Eurofond also used the Salina as collateral to gain a bankloan of over EUR 5 million despite none of the money being invested back into the Salina and proof of ownership being unable to establish.
Eurofond maintains that it owns the land, despite the fact that the owner is registered as the state of Montenegro in the land registry of Ulcinj. This matter can only be settled by the Privatisation Council of the State of Montenegro which is under the leadership of Prime Minister Markociv.
Many promises of protecting the salina have been forthcoming to the groups that have been set up to save it, but as of yet, nothing has been actioned. The EU Commission has even insisted that the salina should be projected for its conservation importance, yet the Montenegrin government is still not budging. Despite the area fulfilling the criteria for designation as a wetland area of international significance, it is not legally protected meaning that its fate lies in the hands of an oligarch and the Montenegro government.
Then in 2017, an EU funded study stated that the saline should be rehabilitated. In turn, the government agreed in April 2018 that production of salt would be re-established but still, nothing has been done. Each day, week and month that passes, the ecosystem of the salina continues to deteriorate and many believe that the government are deliberately stalling things so that full deterioration occurs, meaning the site will no longer be of interest in terms of conservation.
As well as being a popular destination for birds, the salina did, and has enormous potential to attract tourists, bird fanciers, and travellers looking for incredible views and a unique opportunity to experience nature in this way.
I invite you to sign a petition that aims to halt the development of the salina into a hotel complex, as well as to ensure that the wetlands become protected as they should be. This ecosystem is home to 250 types of bird life and if the salina goes, so do they. Our world is the most precious gift we have, help us to preserve it.