“Protect the barrier islands, without which Ria Formosa would not be what it is today" - this is the main objective of the new LIFE project to be presented this Tuesday, February 4th, at the Environmental Education Centre, in Olhão.
The project is coordinated by the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) which will work together with RIAS/Aldeia, Animaris, the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, and the Universities of the Algarve and Coimbra. The initiative is to be launched in the week of the International Wetlands Day (2nd February) and after the first meeting of the IPCC, at the University of Algarve.
The barrier islands are a set of five islands (Barreta, also called Deserta, Culatra, Armona, Tavira and Cabanas) and two peninsulas (Ancão and Cacela) that, as the name implies, form a barrier between the sea and the Ria Formosa. “The contours of these extensive dune bodies are constantly being redefined by the natural agents of coastal dynamics”, explains an SPEA spokesperson.
This LIFE “Ilhas Barreiras” project will serve to assess "how this dynamic could be affected by climate change – presenting important information for the conservation of Ria Formosa, for people living on some of the islands and for species that depend on this special ecosystem", they add.
“In addition to their importance in protecting the Ria Formosa, the barrier islands are themselves an important refuge for some seabirds: the Deserta island is the only place in our country where the audouin gull nests, and the islands are home to important populations of little tern.
The “Ilhas Barreiras” project will study the state of the populations of these species, as well as the dynamics between seagulls and dunes and assess the need for conservation measures. The project will also promote the sustainable use of these islands for local communities and visitors, aiming to involve all schools in the five municipalities of Ria Formosa in a variety of environmental awareness activities.
Off the barrier islands, the endangered Balearic sparrow and several sea birds seek food in important fishing areas. In this project, researchers and environmentalists will work closely with fishermen to prevent these birds from getting accidentally caught in the fishing gear.
The Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, through the Regional Directorate for Nature Conservation and Forests of the Algarve, says that “this is another project that adds to scientific knowledge, involving and training society to safeguard and protect natural values in the Ria Formosa”.
“These islands are much more than protection. They are a source of life that attracts tourists and birds, and supports fishermen and seagulls alike. Together, we can guarantee that they continue to be so,” says Joana Andrade, coordinator of the project and member of the Department of Marine Conservation at SPEA.