Glimmers of hope for Ulcinj Salina

Glimmers of hope for Ulcinj Salina

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/

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