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S’Albufera: a wetland area of outstanding natural beauty
Alex Elgar, thinkSPAINtoday , Sunday, May 6, 2007

Lying in northeast Mallorca facing the bay of Alcudia, this stunningly beautiful wetland area is a little-known gem housing hundreds of species of plants and animals.  Commonly missed off the tourist-trail, the wetland reserve is the largest and most important in the Balearics and should not be missed by those visiting the island.

Almost twenty years ago, this area of amazing natural beauty was doomed for destruction: hundreds of resort blocks were planned to add to Mallorca’s already over-developed east coast. Yet luckily, the Balearic government had the wisdom to save the S’Albufera from destruction of the bulldozers, declaring it a protected reserve in January 1988 - the first area in the Balearics to be given such protection.

Today, the wetland area, with a protected area of some 1,700 Ha, is the largest in the Balearics, and houses an ancient lagoon separated from the sea by a series of dunes. For centuries, and especially in the last two hundred years, sediments have been accumulating in the lagoon, transforming it into a wide flood-plane.

The origins of the S’Albufera date to 18 million years BC, although the wetland area as we know it today is 100,000 years old. The ecological richness of the area is based on water. Constantly flooded, vegetation thrives and diversity of organisms is great. It also has one the most diverse ecosystems in the Balearic Islands. Vegetation, which varies according to distance from the sea, depth and type of soil, shelters and feeds hundreds of animals. 

The S’Albufera receives much of its rainwater from torrents and underground water pools, known as ‘ullals’. Large common reed and bulrush plants dominate the landscape, while many species live underwater in canals and in small lagoons (called ‘llisers’) as well as in flooded marshes. Pondweed, hornwort and duckweed stand out in particular. There are also a staggering 66 species of algae: one of those, the Psathyrella halofila was discovered in the S’Albufera in 1992.

In addition, the area is home to some 29 species of fish – the most important being eels and mullet. Frogs are the dominant amphibians, while the most common reptiles are the water snake and marsh turtle. The most widely found mammals are rodents and bats, with important rarities such as the wood bat. The importance and diversity of invertebrates is enormous. The most notable group are dragonflies, spiders and nocturnal butterflies, of which there are known to be 300 species.

But the best-known animal group in the park is birds, and the area attracts a huge number of ornithologists who travel from around Spain and Europe every year. The birds, which travel easily between marshes separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres, find food and shelter in the park’s lagoons and reed beds. Today, 271 different species of birds can be identified in the park, either as migrants or winter residents and there are 61 reproductive species in the park. Mallard ducks, swallows nightingales are found in abundance throughout the area, as are coots and moorhens. Also frequently seen are little grebe, water rail and European marsh harriers. Also the fish eagle, common kestrel and the falcon are frequent visitors.

Opening Hours
The reserve is open from 09.00hrs -18.00 hrs from April 1-September 30, and from 09.00hrs -17.00hrs from October 1-March 30. A free visitor’s permit is required, which can be obtained at the reception centre. Access to the reserve is by way of the Pont dels Anglesos via bike or foot, located on the Port d’Alcúdia- Artà Road, in the centre of Playa de Muro.

Car drivers may leave their cars at the Pont dels Anglesos. For disabled access, call the park for more information.

Permission for large groups (more than 15 people) visiting the park may be got in advance. Call 971 89 22 50 for more information. Groups larger than 30 persons are strictly prohibited.
Be warned
• Always respect nature. Do not drop litter and do not pick flowers or plants in the reserve
• Always follow the marked paths and travel at slow speed when cycling
• Picnicking is not allowed in the park
• Sporting activities such as jogging, mountain-biking are not permitted
• Dogs are not allowed into the reserve area

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