Menorca a great natural park
The whole of Menorca is a great natural park specially for visitors who see a calm natural place within a "stones throw" of overpopulated and frenetic European cities. We hope that it will stay this way for future generations. Important areas, very representative and undividable are the Albufera d'es Grau, Illa d'en Colom and Cap de Favaritx. All are located along the east coast of the island and include the most important wet lands on Menorca. Just off the coast is the Illa d'en Colom included in the natural park. Because of its value and interest, this area is the central nucleus of the Biosphere Reserve of the MAB programme - UNESCO- which covers the whole of Menorca. It is a natural park with three well defined areas, each one representing a varied ecosystem: wet lands grazing land, cultivated land, wooded hills, coastline communities, xliffs, dunes, and beaches. The natural landscape and ethnological values have made the area wothy of being a natural park and added to the other features of Menorca, - a "Biosphere Reserve" declared by UNESCO.
The objetives of the park:
The conservation and improvement of the natural heritage, landscapes and ethnologist values. Educating and informing the general public about the importance of this natural heritage.
Harmonizing the legal uses of the area with the purpose of preserving the Albufera d'es Grau park
The Albufera d'es Grau is a lagoon measuring 2 km. In length and a surface of about 70 ha. Situated at sea level. It is locked by a system of sand dunes that allows drainage into the sea by a unique and narrow channel known as the Gola.
The lagoon is sprinked with small rocky islands covered in vegetation. These provide an undisturbed refuge for the birds.
El Prat is an area which changes constantly either flooded or dry according to the season or the level of the water in the lake.
The island of d'en Colom
Separated from the coast by about 200 metres this island has a surface of 60 ha. And has been used for a varety of things. Once it was quarentine island, one part was cultivated and there was an unsuccessful lead mine. Today, it is used by tourists, for swimming, boating, etc. It is not inhabited at the moment and only the beaches can be visited.
From the beach inland there is grass which is low and sparse and not very resistant to the wind. Some of it is a kind of creeping grass known as Medicago Marina. We can also easily see the panical thistle (Eryngium maritimun) a "lechetruzna" (Euphorbia parallas), the beach lily (pancratium maritimum) or the sandbank reed (Ammophila arenaria) a grass that covers and fixes the first mounds of sand.
The western end of the beach
The vegetation does not correspond to the substrata, which instead of being sandy, it is heavier. Although it is protected from the prevailing winds, it is affected by the salty
Air. The beach is quite narrow at this end. Near the water, marine fennel grows (crythum maritimum) thorny soncos, and some grasses like the "espantazorras" (linionium ssp). Further inland the plants are taller and thicker. There is a covering of thick low bushes, and plenty of camomile (santolina chamaeciparissus susbp. Magónica) which grows around the edge horizontally. Other plants include "jaguarzo negro" (cistus mospeliensis) the endemic "labiérnago" (phillyrea media), Aliaga (Calycotome spinosa), Carrizo (Ampelodesima mauritanica) etc.
Easily confused with the coastal mauia but further inland away from the salty effect of the sea there are other types of plants. On higher ground facing south there are wild olive trees . Often the growth is stunted and forms more of a bush but they can grow up to seven metres. Together with the encina (evergreen oak) the wild olive is the best adapted plant on Menorca, as so is fairly abundant. Other plants are: the "acebuche"(Oolea Europacea var. Sylvestris), the "zarzaparrilla" (rough smilax), the "lechetruzna" bush (Euphorbia dendroides), the aspargus (asparagus acutifolius) plus others wich will be mentioned later.
The interior of the dunes
Leaving the sea, we notice that the vegetation anchors the sand more and more. Regarding the beach numerous differences in the composition vegetation and species. The pinar- sabinar is fundamently an anchor of the sand which helps the dunes to form the junipar bush (Juniperus phoenicea var. Lycia) and the pine (pinus halepensis) are predominant. This mass of vegetation has the important task of forming a natural barrier between the beach and the eastern end of the lagoon and Sa Gola.
Remains of a diversity of species can be found: the "alcina" (quercus ilex), "brusco" (ruscus aculeatus) as examples. Together with another species of pine, the "real pine (pinus pinea). The predominant bush is the "lentisco" (pistacia lentiscus) and muernera grass (clematis flammula) and (rubia peregrina)
The moor vegetation
This type of vegetation limits the land after the dunes at sea level. The "salicornias" (arthrocnemum fruticosum) extends evenly forming a desnse low carpet. There is a lack of sandy substrata. Some examples of the species "salicorniar" grow within the pinewoods such as the "olivardilla " (inula crythmoides), tamarisk (tamarix africana) and "halimione" (halimione portulacoides ) etc.
The floodgate system of Sa Gola
Near the fishermen's cottages we have a wide view towards the lagoon, and the communication channel linking it to the sea. Sa Gola is surrounded by vegetation: the lagoon has a very defined position within the water cycle, regulating the levels of the water; owing to the type of rainfall in this latitude which ca be either torrential or light.
How does the ground react to this type of rainfall? It becomes saturated very rapidly and excess water flows superficially down streams beds where the substrata is not very permeable (silicico menorquín). However over long periods, especially in summer, when rain is very infrequent the reserves in the basin become very low. This is when, the only reserve of water to the lagoon, subjected to high evaporation, is the sea, and this helps prevent the lagoon drying up in summer. When the rains arrive the process is inverse and the water returns to the sea rich in nutriments helping the biomass along the sea edges. This process is very benificial to the sea.
The aquatic ecosystem also connects with the drainage system, and gives nutritious ions to the lagoon. This process is helped by continuous erosion and intensified by man, which eliminates the vegetation covering part of the earth ecosystem. These nutritious properties, exposed to sunlight, allows the growth of acuatic vegetation on the lagoon's sediment. In the sea the nutritious materials accumulate on the seabed where the sunlight does not reach because of the depth, reducing the possibility of an enormous product for the ecosystem. The shallow depth of the lagoon, 2 to 3 metres allows total illumination of the ecosystem and so provides a very productive ecosystem capable of feeding a great number of organism. The vegetation differs from that of the land and can take two forms depending on the degree of the water exchange of the sea. When this is low nonexistence and the Gola full of sand . Where it crosses the beach, the vegetable mass is based on mivroscopic organisms that tint the water a thick greeny colour. Although the biomass is small it has a high reproductive capacity which can double within days. From the animal point of view, this presents few problems as it can be consumed completly with little harm when, on the contrary, the inflow from the sea is heavy this pancton is rapidly swept along by the currents forming a mass of filament algae on the lagoon bed, along with submerged plants rooted in the sediment. The water becomes more transparent which benefits the life of larger animals /birds who use their eyesight for capturing food: the herbivors look for tubers and roots, the carnivorous, larvas of mosquietos and fish
The swamp from Sa Gola bridge
The humid banks along Sa Gola can be differentiated according to their vegetable composition.Basically, there is, from the bridge, in land a different mass from the salicorniar they are a group of plants that are not very influenced by salt water but can grow on flooded ground. They form a small swamp, with rushes on the lower part, together with canes and reed mace (phragmetes australis and typha latifolia). We can also see, closer to the road, other plants typical to this environment, that provide shelter for birds like "correhuela" (cohvolvulus ssp) bramble(rubus ulmifolius) a "lechetruzna", wild olivetrees and maquia (euphorbia ssp) etc.
Interior bush (maquia)
Here we have a variety formed by the "sabinar" and maquia bushes- differnt fron the ones on the western end of the beach. Their characteristics make it difficult to define this area as a pure habitat due to the present state of growth. Sand, first blown by the wind and covered in vegetation rests on the silicion substrata of slate. The flowers of the maquia by the dunes are very diverse. Again, we find two types of pines and other abundant plants, which we haven't mentioned before: heather (Erica multiflora), rosemary (rosmarinus officianalis), aladierno (rhammus alaternus), jara (cistus laurifolius), grass(dorycrium pentaphyllum) etc. There is also evergreen oak, which here in the maquia, out, grows other bushes and seems to be establishing itself firmly in the ecosystem.
Aquatic birds are the most important fauna around the lagoon. Many of them are migrating birds that stop off on their long trip, to rest and feed in the humid areas around the lake. Other birds are a familiar signt in the air for example the fishing eagle (pandion haliaetus), the cormorant (phalacrocorax aristotelis) the "roquero solitario" (monticuila solitarius), wild doves (columba livia) the "carrucas" (Salvis ssp), the "bisbita campestre" (abthus campestris) the "alcaraván" (burhinus oedicnemus), "cogujada montesina" (galerida theklae), "terrera" (calandrella brachydactyla), the turtledove (streptopelia), "porrones" (aythya ferina). Whistle cuck (anas penelope), "la focha" (fulica atra), the real duck (anas platyrhynchos), the common "cercetos" (ana creca) and herons (ardea purpurea). Other birds of prey can be seen such as the kite, the booted eagle, the small "zampullín" (tachibaptus ruficollis) or the pelegrin hawk (falcó peregrinus).
As for fish, the most common species in the s'Albufera are the eel, (anguilla anguilla) the grey mullet (combat aurata i l ramada). The "robalo" (dicentrarchus labrax). The "pejerelles" (atherina boyeri), the galau(combat saliens) and the "gambusia" (Gambussia affin is holdbrooki) introduced by man.
The most common mammals are the rabbit (oryctolagus cunniculus), the dormouse (epimys norvegicus) the hedgehog (atelerix algirus) the dormous "careto" (eliomys quercinus) and the pinemartin (mustela tuesday).
As for reptiles, the green toad (bufo viridis balearicus), the European frog (emys orbicularis), the Italian small lizard ( podarcis sicula), the cowl snake (macroprotodon curcullatus) the ladder snake (elaphe scalaris) and the San anton frog (hyla meridionalis)
Human activity en the park
Here we can talk about two wll defined activities, one is agriculture, the other the visitors and tourists at weekends and in summer.
The agriculture is more or less traditional and is not really a threat to the area. The building along part of the coast has put the area under pressure and measures have been taken to stop this by expropiation. The traditional buildings remain but the increase of tourism puts pressure on the beach, and although there are no hotels, many visitors come here, often local people from Mahón. The beach is formed around a deep shell sahaped bay, the water is shallow and is not re-nowed very often. This makes it very popular for the first swims of the summer, as the water warms up quickly. Also, it is very popular for children or elderly people because it is calm and there are hardly anay waves.
In the evening, the sight of the calm water and the fishing boats is very beautiful. The bay also harbours many newer outboard motor boats and yachts specially during the summer months. With the last rays of sunlight the colour of the Mediterranean sea, the dunes, the wooded hills and the sunset, make a wonderful sight.
More about la Albufera d'es Grau
The famous bridle path, originally used for surveillance of the coast, also passes through the natural park. This makes an ideal walk around the Albufera, passing near to the areas under the water, sa Illa d'en Colom, the "balsa de Morella", the tower of Tamarells and the settlement of Sa Torreta. On the Sa Torreta farm there is a talayotic site of great historical and archaeological importance. Not far away there is a defense tower at Sa Torre Blanca. On the headland of the "Rambla" opposite the island d'en Colom there is a defense tower near the sea at about 25 metres above sea level. It is the tower of the Tamarells, also known as torre de Sa Torreta or Torre de Rambla. It was built in the XVIII century out of local stone (marès). It has three floors with the main entrance in the centre. Also, of great ethnological interest are the dry stone walls, the buildings of Sa Bovaleta and Sa Boval Vella, and the wells and drinking troughs.