Green Balkans Pomorie BBF Tour du valat Life Programme Natura2000



The salt lakes and saltpans of Portugal

Climate changes are becoming an increasingly important and noticeable part of our lives, and if here in Bulgaria we still do not feel the new challenges with such force and only suffer because there is not enough snow or precipitation, then in the southern and Mediterranean countries people more and more "feel the heat" in their lives. Already at the end of April, it is 26 degrees, and the days with a temperature above 40 degrees are constantly increasing, there is a lack of fresh water, and in the summer months, the rivers almost disappear.
But people, only when they feel the lack of certain resources in the store, then they start to think, but it may be too late.

Adaptation to climate change may sound vague to many people, but these are the steps that we or our government have taken to deal with the coming problems – without rainfall there is no fresh water, without it there is no agriculture, there is no food, etc.

Part of the measures that our Portuguese partners from Salina Green are taking are related to the use and promotion of halophytic plants, as an alternative to traditional agriculture, as a way to preserve the habitats in the salt flats and to find new stakeholders, who will find economic benefits and will get involved in the maintenance of the water cycle and facilities.
We visited two salt mines near Alcochete (a resort town opposite Lisbon, which is connected to the capital via the 12 km Vascu da Gama bridge) - one is still producing salt, but mainly for demonstration purposes, but the Samuco Foundation, which manages the territory, takes care of the maintenance of water and infrastructure. With an area of 360 hectares, the Salinas do Samouco complex presents itself as the salt swamp with the greatest wealth and abundance of birds during the tidal period in the entire Tagus, which find shelter here during their migratory journeys, as well as ideal conditions for feeding and nesting.

Located on the banks of the Tagus River, the salt mines are still a living example of what was for a long time the main economic activity in Alcochete - salt production. After being extracted from the pools still visible at the mouth of the Tagus, the salt was later transported to the port of Lisbon and exported abroad.

The decline of seafaring, the complacency of countries that traditionally consume salt, the emergence of refrigeration systems and their implementation on cod fishing vessels, the use of alternative preservatives are some of the factors that weaken the production of salt and, therefore, the economic loss from it. In this scenario, there are few saltworks that have been able to resist and adapt to the new situation. Alcochet is also no exception to the rule.

The salt mines of the João Gonçalves Júnior Foundation now manage the salt mines in the municipality and carry out the activities for their maintenance - basically managing the water regime. This significantly contributes to the formation of the cultural identity of the population of this municipality. As well as keeping alive the tradition of salt mining in Alcochete, the salt mines are increasingly recognized for their ecological importance, as they are a place of shelter and refuge for many waterfowl, contributing to their conservation and protection.

Currently, Marinha do Canto, part of the Salinas do Samouco complex, is the only salt mine producing salt in Tagus and Alcochete.
In winter, the salt mines are an important place where birds go to find shelter and alternative food in the water-covered spaces. In summer, the salt mines are an important nesting site, especially for the black-winged stilt.

In the area we visited the restoration sites of the coastal lagoon and 1420 Mediterranean saltbush habitat, which is being carried out by the family company Salina Greens.

By managing the water regime and halophytic plant communities, these sites maintain their ecological functions as coastal habitats while providing natural resources of economic importance. The company produces fresh biomass for consumption from various halophytes, mainly Sarcocornia and dried mass (green salt) from them (mainly Suaeda, Sarcocornia, Salicornia, Betta maritima, Inula, etc.), as well as other cultivated species from the area. This is an example of a sustainable business based on natural solutions, and the company's philosophy is to make the most of natural resources without applying production intensification. The company has established at Quinta da Atalaya a controlled Salicornia plantation through artificial seeding and irrigation near the water bodies. Both approaches applied by the company are successful and economically expedient, given the virtually unlimited natural resource provided by perennial halophytes. The company demonstrated a dryer for the production with a hybrid power supply.

We got acquainted with the main representatives of the halophytes in the salt mines, which, although with a similar function and structure of the vegetation, are very different from the communities of halophytes in Lake Atanasovsko, especially in terms of species composition, vegetation and distribution in the habitats. A major difference is the perenniality of most species here. In Atanasovsko Lake, all halophytes are annuals. I have had sightings of several invasive plant species that are a major threat in coastal habitats, incl. dune complexes (grey dunes).
A project for the preservation and restoration of an indigenous breed of donkeys is being implemented in the area.

The visit to the salt mines in Figueres de Foch was particularly interesting. There are still small operating salt mines there (divided between individual owners), where small producers maintain them and extract salt using a technology similar to that in Lake Pomorie. Here, the tradition has also been preserved for centuries and passed down from generation to generation.


We visited the Salt Museum, where Gilda Saraiva, President of FigueiraSal - Association of Salt Producers of Figueira da Foz, showed us around and introduced us to the highlights of the saltworks in the area and throughout Portugal.

The shop in the Museum, which offers salt from various producers, including Salicornia, combinations of salt with various spices (including roses), caused great interest. We saw the salt pools being prepared for the new season and being cleaned of algae, as well as the spa area which is attached to the museum. Of particular interest was the salt warehouse, which is part of the Museum, storing tools typical of salt extraction.

It was with great admiration (and undisguised envy) that we visited ECOMARE - Laboratory for Innovation and Sustainability of Marine Biological Resources of the University of Aveiro, which includes the Center for Extension and Research in Aquaculture and the Sea (CEPAM) and the Center for the Rehabilitation of Marine Animals (CPRAM).

CESAM's mission is to develop international research excellence in environmental and marine sciences. CESAM engages with policy challenges related to: climate change adaptation and mitigation; regional, national and European policies related to water (freshwater and marine) and natural resources, including biodiversity, environmental health and sustainable development.
Approximately 500 researchers work here, of which around 240 are PhD students.

We visited the area of the salt mines of Aveiro, which are farmed and managed by the University of Aveiro and are a resting place for dozens of species of birds. The experience of a small family company "Horta da Ria" for the controlled cultivation of Salicornia europaea in the Saltworks in Aveiro was interesting, where we talked with the owners about the production technology and the realization of the production.

The method is suitable for application in Atanasovsko Lake in the restoration of abandoned salt mining basins. This will allow controlled management of the water regime, according to the ecological needs of the salt marsh. Thus, economic production will be obtained and the habitat will be restored at the same time. These pools are  accessible only by boat, which we did despite the rainy weather.

Our last visit was to a magnificent bird-watching center Evoa (, created with the support and in the characteristic spirit of WWT. It is managed by an agricultural company with a hundred year history.

Located in the heart of Portugal's most important wetland, the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve comprises three freshwater wetlands covering an area of 70 hectares. They are created artificially by designing water areas with different characteristics and shaping them with technique. A connection with the estuary of the Tagus River has been established and is maintained, with which the water regime is managed. Vegetation development is also managed to provide suitable habitats for different bird species.

Monitoring and research activities are carried out. These lagoons are very important for birds, using them for resting or nesting. To ensure the tranquility of the birds and maximize the visitor experience, there are four observation hides, 3 photography hides and a visitor centre. They even have an electric bus for older bird-watchers.

The idea of such a place arose in 2000 with a proposal made by Aquaves - Association for the Protection and Management of Natural Environments to Companhia das Lezírias, SA to implement structures for the interpretation of nature in Ponta da Erva, a nature reserve at the mouth of the Tagus.

In 2001, Companhia das Lezírias, the owner of the land, showed interest in cooperation in projects of an ecological nature. At ЕVOA we discussed the opportunities, threats and experiences in creating and managing similar wetlands, as well as opportunities for future cooperation and partnership in projects.