Bringing socio-ecosystemic life to the Bay of Cadiz saltpans through nature-based solutions and sustainable economic practices

The Bay of Cadiz is located facing the Atlantic front of Spain but is still in the Mediterranean biogeographical region. For centuries, these coastal wetlands have provided resources to people and birds. However, the lack of profitability and abandonment of traditional saltpans during the last decades is leading to a significant loss of biodiversity and wealth in the area. This project has contributed to transforming these degraded historic wetlands into dynamic spaces, recovering their productive capacity through sustainable management, thus maintaining its traditional economic, social, and environmental functions.

The traditional management system of the saltpans and ponds has been all but lost. Today there are only 9 saltpans actively managed, not for profit, but rather for the livelihood of those owners who refuse to abandon a centuries-old tradition, while more than 5,000 ha of these systems are currently abandoned within the Bay of Cadiz Natural Park. The salt industry was once the main economic driver of the region producing large-scale development. However, with increased competition and decreased demand for salt (due to the advent of electric refrigeration, food no longer needed to be preserved with salt) the industry has declined since the middle of the 20th century. Due to the lack of human management, these traditional saltpans and ponds have been progressively abandoned and have suffered degradation (agricultural use, industry, roads, and urban developments) as well as natural processes (wind-driven sedimentation and erosion of retention walls), all of which have reduced its biodiversity.

Working along within the Outcome Action Plan for Coastal Wetlands, SEO/BirdLife and Salarte carried out a pilot project in the area to reverse this situation. The objective of this project was to restore, conserve and revitalize one of the most iconic saltpans of Cádiz: Balbanera. This area of 50ha had almost lost the walls that protected the salina from wind and wave erosion, several of the gates that control the flow of water were not operational, aquatic communities had become very poor, and bird species couldn’t breed any longer.

In the end, SEO and Salarte could recreate and maintain a dynamic space that generates ecological, socioeconomic, and environmental sustainability for this wetland. This is a nice example of how conservation and green economy can work side by side through gastronomy, tourism, and wetland farming. In addition to enhancing biodiversity, it generates multiple associated benefits in terms of the creation of income, well-being and employment based on endogenous resources and sustainable actions. The main actions that have been implemented are:

 ⁎Reconstruction of perimeter walls (nearly 2,000m), and sluicegates (5 external and 12 internal), to reflood and manage the water within the saltpan.

 ⁎Drainage of the canals (around 5,000 m) to allow fish reproduction and promote a proper habitat for flamingos and other species.

 ⁎Creation of islands for ecosystem boundaries and breeding areas for waders and terns.

 ⁎Re-design of ponds and canals for the cultivation of shrimps and eelgrass (and their companion species such as amphipods, pipefish,  seahorses and sea bream, sea bass, among others).

 ⁎Creation of a specific area for traditional salt production

Furthermore, four specific actions to improve the reproduction of Kentish Plover, Little Tern, Black-winged Stilt and Avocet have been included:

⁎Increase the height of the walls (between 0.5 and 1 m, depending on the state of conservation of the wall) to avoid flooding of nests.

⁎Substrate input (shell debris) to promote the use of the area as a breeding site.

⁎Placement of microstructures (small Y-shaped sticks and tiles) to promote the breeding and chick survival of terns and plovers.

⁎Installation of small gates, adjusting them to the required depth (less than 1 m) and increasing aquatic biomass and accessibility of potential food for birds

Also, small facilities for supporting tourism and educational activities have been created. As a result, employment and a way of living will be ensured in the next years for a whole family and other people, along with a higher site value as a breeding, feeding and wintering area for birds. 

For more info on the project and the area, please contact SEO ( or Salarte (

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