The wonders of water

The fields opposite the Algarve Resident offices in Lagoa easily flood due to the sandy soil and are purposely flooded each May for the growing of rice. It is my favourite time of the year as it is like looking over the everglades.

Last year, one field that is more hidden from public view and which is usually reserved for pasture for the local cows started to flood, which we presumed to be due to an overflow from the rice fields. However, as summer progressed more and more water appeared until there was hardly any grass left. Soon the birds started to arrive.

There has always been an abundance of birds taking advantage of the mosquitos and crayfish that breed in the flooded fields, but this was different. Each day hundreds of glossy ibis mingled with egrets, herons, moorhens and, my favourites, the spoonbills.

The resident mallard ducks had a marvellous new lagoon to swim in and different types of waders arrived especially when green algae grew in the water. In September, hundreds of storks gathered, as they do each year, in preparation for the rice harvest, before flying to warmer climates for the winter months.

The view of this flooded field was breathtaking and one that I never tired of, so imagine my joy when early one morning I saw a flock of 24 flamingos. I spent most afternoons watching them, fascinated by how they looked like hoovers, their heads in the water continuously moving from side to side as they fed. They were beautiful and I felt very privileged to have access to this almost private bird paradise, which remained our secret, until the end of the summer, when word finally got out and a few visitors began to gather each day.

We wondered where all the water was coming from and I was horrified to discover that it was from the local sewage works. The stream where normally this ‘treated’ water is dispersed was blocked with reeds as it had not been cleared for some years and so the water found its way into the field and just kept flooding. There was no smell and it was clean-looking water but, even so, we had to question its safety near the local houses and their boreholes.

The local water board said it was not their responsibility to clear the stream which was on private land, although personally I did not think it fair that it should be the farmers’ obligation and, amazingly, when the local council were notified, within three weeks there was a digger clearing the stream.

As expected, by October the water dried up so the birds left, leaving just the ducks and moorhens to peck at the grass that was able to grow again.

My point to this story is to highlight how amazing it is that by filling a field with water, in a matter of days, a whole new ecosystem develops. We saw over 20 different species of birds, some of which have never been there before like the godwits.

Surely this highlights the need for a wetland in the area and how important it is to keep fighting to retain the Alagoas lagoon, opposite the Aldi supermarket, which local environmentalists have been fighting to preserve from industrial development for the last two years.

Since 1993, March 22 has been designated as World Water Day, a day when activities and projects take place worldwide to highlight the importance of fresh water and to promote the sustainable management of water sources.

In collaboration with governments and partners, the United Nations Water (UN-Water) coordinates inter-agency collaboration for freshwater projects designed to educate the public and to raise funds to get water to the 844 million people in the world today that do not have access to freshwater in their homes.

Water scarcity and pollution are the problems that need immediate action in the global water crisis and wetlands have a huge role to play in the provision of water to communities who rely on them for fresh water, pasture, agriculture, fishing and hunting.

Wetlands form where land meets water and they exist in every country in the world. They can be peat land, marshes, rivers, lakes, and so on, yet statistics indicate that, since the 1900s, 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared.

With their huge diversity of plants and animals, wetlands are one of the most productive habitats in the world. They are an essential environment for the feeding and breeding of migratory species and the major habitat for most of the world’s water birds.

Each year The United Nations Water chooses a global theme which was in 2018 “Nature for Water”, ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030.

For 2019, the theme is “Leave no one behind”, which focuses on the reasons why so many people are left behind in accessing safe water sources and planning projects to ensure that, in the future, there is access for all.

Did you know that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, with 96.5% of the water located in oceans? So, about 3% of the world’s water is fresh and most of that is frozen! Only 1% of this fresh water – i.e. 0.03% of total water – is, therefore, available for people to use directly.

Every human needs 20-50 litres of water a day for drinking and cooking, not to mention the huge quantities used daily in agriculture and industry. To assure the quality of water, better management and protection of water sources must take precedence in a world that is continuously being polluted and destroyed by humans.

January and February were the Algarve’s driest in the last 19 years and, with climate alterations having a huge impact on water sources, many ecosystems are at risk.

Sixty per cent of our body is made up of water and a human cannot survive without it for more than four days, as compared to over three weeks without food, therefore, with water being paramount to survival itself, if mankind does not preserve its life source, what hope is there for the future?

The creation, preservation and restoration of habitats are, therefore, fundamental.

Although my article did not start out with a bid to save Lagoa’s Alagoas Brancas wetlands and even though they are not used as a water source or for agriculture, my research into wetlands and last summer’s experience brought home to me how important their preservation is to the local wildlife. After all, ‘my’ flamingos and spoonbills must have somewhere to go this summer!

So now you know!

For more information on the Alagoas, visit Facebook page ‘Salvar as Alagoas Brancas’

By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

Beautiful colouring
Glossy Ibis arriving for the night
Little Egrets and glossy ibis
Spoonbills, my favourites!
The flamingos arrived