There is undisguised delight today following news that the ICNF (nature and forestry conservation institute) has finally conceded to more than two decades worth of efforts towards giving Algarve birding wetland Lagoa dos Salgados protected status.
Conservationists have taken to social media to praise the decision, which puts the matter well and truly in the hands of people.
From December 7, a ‘period of public consultation’ will be opened on portal ‘participa’ to gauge people’s opinions on the proposal to classify the lagoon as a nationally-protected natural reserve.
As one of the many who have been fighting for this day has explained, it is now vital that everyone who cares about Lagoa dos Salgados to take part in the exercise “so that the proposal goes through and is not blocked by powerful interests that exist with regard to that area who seek to fill it with concrete. This is the last natural haven on the Algarve’s southern coast. It guards unquestionable value and must be protected and valued in a responsible and sustainable way!”
Readers may remember the civic fight to save the lagoon from the threat of development. It goes back to the early days of this new century when Silves municipality earmarked its only stretch of Algarve coastline for mass-development involving various hotels, hundreds of residential properties and an 18-hole golf course.
At the time, the ICNF refused all entreaties to ‘protect’ Lagoa dos Salgados. In the words of one of the many environmentalists who have followed this fight, “there was no government interest in creating special reserves that would compromise private interests and speculative development”.
But authorities hadn’t bargained for the depth of public opinion – nor very possibly did they imagine that a British resident would power a petition that received more signatures demanding the lagoon be ‘saved’ than any other environmental issue in the history of Portugal.
The petition is still collecting signatures on the AVAAZ site today, latest tally being 34,375 (click here).
The petition was backed by various public demonstrations – as well as dogged interventions by NGOs, particularly SPEA, the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds – while the financial crisis/ troika years ensured that no investors ever got close to putting up the money to carry out the development that so many say is the last thing the area needs.
Anabela Santos of eco-association Almargem has responded to the ICNF’s news, saying “this is an historic day”.
Almargem has been another key player in the battle to protect Lagoa dos Salgados which brought together a ‘platform’ of NGOs and activists.
The next step now is for everyone who cares to put their names and comments to the public participation exercise, which the Resident will be announcing once it comes online.
And as for the development plans, still existing on paper, hopes are that these will have to be severely reduced in size and intention, in order to ‘fit in’ with the fact that they will be straddling an area of national protection.