Shortly before sunrise. I am standing in the middle of the most beautiful places far and wide. Behind the black mountains a pink glow illuminates the sky. The camera is ready to capture this magical moment. Around me the water turns into a golden and rose carpet. Snap! Each sunrise or sunset is more beautiful than the other in this breathtaking place.
Behind me I can hear a strange chatter. I turn around to discover a flock of flamingos. There are at least 100 of them! They stride through the shallow waters. Snap. A little further behind them I see big white spots. The Dalmatian pelicans. I know that they have a wingspan of up to 3 meters. Big whoppers! Just in time I see a few common shelducks flying by. In my opinion their plumage is really beautiful — black, brown, white and a green shimmer. And an intense red beak. A great colour combination.
A common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) in low flight
The Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) floats graciously on the water surface
Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) with their long necks
I’m on my way back. Due to the gravel road I’m getting quite shaken up on my bike, but at least now I have tailwind. I cycle full speed on the tarred road along the overgrown salt pans towards the exit. Once more I am braking to take some Salicornia twigs with me. The plant looks beautiful as it stands out from the white crystal underground through its lush green. Stubborn little plant. Snap. I will fry the salty plant as a side dish for lunch. With sesame and nothing else.
The salt-loving Salicornia
Let’s get back on the bike. The industrial buildings are approaching at lightning speed. I slow down. It’s quiet, but something is rattling nearby. I remember — it’s a piece of plastic from the roof. Today it is particularly active because of the strong wind. I turn right to look at it again. My gaze wanders over decay. The salt lies motionless and grey in the big hall with the broken roof. The conveyor belt is rusty, the salt wagons are overgrown. Snap.
Abandoned salt conveyor belt & the salt storage hall in the background
Salt wagoons, deadlocked
This was for now the last time that I’ve been on a photo safari in Ulcinj Salina. That was end of October 2018 and since then I am travelling again with Steffen. What remains is this place: A place full of beauty, full of potential and little hope. A place of contrasts.
I spent two months supporting the local Dr. Martin Schneider-Jacoby Association (MSJA). The mission of the association which was founded in 2016 is to protect Ulcinj Salina. Zenepa Lika leads the activities with heart and soul and great commitment. I got to know her during my time as a campaigner at EuroNatur, a nature conservation foundation based in Southern Germany. When our world trip came into focus, Steffen and I made the Salina our first important destination and cycled 3700km from EuroNatur to MSJA — in the name of Ulcinj Salina.
Zenepa & Viviane in the Salina
During the two months I often visited the Salina, not only on photo safaris, but also on guided tours, bird counts and even for a television interview. But it was hard for me to enjoy the beauty of the Salina because I know its tragic history. It is long and complex and could fill several books.
It all began with the privatisation in 2005. The investment fund Eurofond, which acquired the main shares in the saltworks during the opaque privatisation process, saw its chance to make a lot of money:
The 15km2 wetland is only a few hundred meters away from the longest sandy beach of the eastern Adriatic, the so-called Copacabana of Montenegro. Hotels and apartment complexes have moved closer and closer to the saltworks in recent years. Eurofond has Ulcinj Salina as building land in mind and advertises it as perfectly suited for an eco-resort with golf course and marina.
Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Pygmy Cormorants (Microcarbo pygmaeus) in Ulcinj Salina
A luxury project that would leave little space for the local people and the birds. But for birds is the Salina an indispensable place to rest on their migration routes to and from Africa. It is teeming with birds, tens of thousands of them. They belong to over 250 bird species, some of them endangered. But the cackling, squeaking and singing birdlife is threatened by the unscrupulous Eurofond. They use all means and loopholes to push their interests through: Unresolved property rights, crushed flamingo eggs, changes in land-use plans, destroyed pumps, a stolen excavator. It remains uncertain where they have their finger in the pie, but support from the highest circles of power is evident.
But it could be so nice: Sea salt. A product made from sun, wind and love could be produced here. Then again, as already since the 1930s, there would be a reliable employer for the local people. Salicornia could also be sold in restaurants or shops, a souvenir shop could be opened or the museum could be run. There is a lot of potential for microentrepreneurs. But the saltworks have been shut down since 2013.
Crane loading salt from the crystallization basins into the salt wagons
And on top of that eleven offers for sale have already taken place, in which Ulcinj Salina was hawked for over 150 million euros. Since then, the Salina has been ducking down from the lurking danger. It lies in its unnoticed beauty behind a guarded gate. She knows that out there a battle for her has erupted: on paper, at four conferences, with petitions, in telephone calls and on social media with hashtag #savesalina.
It’s a good thing that Ulcinj Salina hasn’t been canopied with a big bell yet, so flamingos, Dalmatian pelicans and many other birds can still rest here. There are less birds than a couple of years ago, because the conditions are not optimal anymore. However, nature tourists from all over the world are not deterred by this. The robust among them even make it into the Salina, although it is not so easy to hear about it. Hotels, the tourist information and websites draw too little attention to it. There is no sign in whole of Montenegro on which it is marked and in the Salina itself one does not learn anything about its tragic history.
MSJA has therefore been planning for quite some time to create a comprehensive folder for tourists. I then implemented the plan with the help of InDesign. The municipality and some companies from Ulcinj, including many hotels, financed the printing of the four-language folder and it is now available throughout Ulcinj. I’ve also updated the associations’s website and now it’s also available in English with the most important information.
I very much hope that many more people will go on photo safaris to Ulcinj Salina, be enchanted by its beauty and touched by its history.
Please sign the petition and tell this story to the people. #savesalina. For salt. For birds. For people.
The website of MSJA: www.ulcinjsalina.me/en/