The Battle of Salgados Lagoon

Oblivious to the war between developers and environmentalists, wildlife still thrives at Salgados Lagoon. Insects, fish, mammals, reptiles and an abundant variety of birds all find sanctuary here.

WORDS Luis Teves Costa

On one side, developers plan to build another high-end resort infrastructure. This will promote the region’s tourism, create jobs and increase housing. On the other side, environmentalists want to save one of the last wildlife refuges in the Algarve. The local animals and plants cannot voice their opinion, but they are undoubtedly the ones who have the most to lose. 

Recently, naturalists proclaimed a victory in this dispute when a conservation project for the area came close to fruition and was backed by Portugal’s Environment Minister. However, developers are now challenging this plan. They have brought forward long-approved development projects that pre-date current environmental concerns.

Spoonbills and flamingos “dance” around in the water, unaware that they might soon be neighbours with a substantial development accommodating up to 4,000 beds. The project contains three hotel units, tennis courts and another 18-hole golf course as part of a new resort. 

Marsh harriers and seagulls hover above this body of water, but will they stay when the building starts? Will they return when the project is finished? 

Huge flocks of glossy ibis can be seen skimming the treetops until they land and disappear in the reeds and bushes. Beautiful goldfinches and linnets feed on the grass whilst lapwings and golden plovers roam the surrounding fields. These will most certainly not enjoy the tarmac roads and car parks or the pristine cut grass of modern golf courses.

Distant migrant birds such as the collared pratincoles or whimbrels may no longer recognise this seasonal pit-stop on their amazing journeys. 

Magpies hop around the reserve, and sometimes six for gold can be observed as well as kestrels and little owls perching in trees against the sky beyond, which merges from blue to pink.

Along the boardwalk, you can count on stonechats to pose for a quick picture at fairly close range while bluethroats honour visitors with their presence here during winter break. 

Foxes and hedgehogs are among the more elusive residents here. Will their housing needs be considered if the developers’ interests win over the environmentalists? And if so, will anyone consider and account for nature corridors to allow movement? Or will we simply close this space and isolate the non-flying species living here? This will inevitably promote genetic pool issues until these animals no longer exist here. 

Butterflies, bees and beetles are a constant presence here, enjoying the many wildflowers and bushes that grow around the lagoon and into the sand dunes. These delicate insects also need protection and are very seldomly considered. 

Wildlife has shown on occasion that they can adapt to challenging situations and changes, but the general rule is that most species will simply choose not to come anymore. Every time that we force one species out of a habitat, we are effectively endangering this species and pushing them towards extinction. It is well known that loss of habitat is the number one cause for species decline. 

Whatever the outcome, we can only hope that with all the conservation efforts worldwide and ecological awareness, we might manage to protect the interests of the local fauna and flora at Salgados.

To participate in the discussion on this issue go to and search  ‘Proposta de Classificação da Reserva Natural da Lagoa dos Salgados’.


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