Montenegro: Ulcinj Salina – the value of money or the value of nature?

Back in 2005 when 15 square kilometres of public property, an area the size of 2000 soccer fields, were privatized for 800’000 euros, almost nobody knew about the Ulcinj Salina. After the new owner tried to sell the same area for 300 times higher price civil society started to discover the real value of nature at the salina. Is it too late?

From kingdom, through socialism to privatization

The area of Ulcinj was chosen by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the best place to build an extensive salt production facility. Saltpans were built from 1926 to 1934 in the place of a natural lagoon and saltwater was pumped in from the sea via the Port Milena Channel.   

During socialism the salina was extended by 60% and became the driver for the development of the municipality of Ulcinj, being not only the biggest salt producer in Yugoslavia, but also one of the biggest in the Mediterranean. Declared Important Bird Area in 1989 and first private nature park in 2004, it was privatized in 2005 for 800’000 euros. Since 2011 the major stake-holder Eurofond tried to sell the salina 11 times for prices between 179 and 256 million euro, with plans to build Ulcinj Saltern Natural Resort.

In a promotion leaflet Eurofond explains that “the owner plans to replace existing technology with modern equipment for salt production. Such a transformation will enable the creation of a resort”. The plans include reducing salt production facilities to one-fifth of the site (about 300 hectares) and “adding-up” aquaculture, agricultural production, zone for rest and recreation, golf course, marina, hotels, restaurants, bars, banks, shopping, spa, wellness, vinearies, taverns, etc.

Civil society acts

Massive protests took place in 2011 when plans for construction became public. Proposals to declare Ulcinj Salina a protected area and a wetland of international importance were prepared – both cancelled by the government. Meanwhile Eurofond declared bankruptcy of the saline and started a lawsuit to gain full ownership rights that would allow construction. abandoned all salt production facilities,

The NGOs EuroNatur Foundation (Germany) and Center for Protection and Research of Birds – CZIP (Montenegro) discovered that the man-made structure had become “the most important resting, wintering and breeding site for many species of waterbirds along the Adriatic Flyway”.

In the last years NGOs are trying to compensate the lack of management from Eurofond. Abandoned salt production facilities do not allow pumping in saltwater and pumping out fresh water, thus severely impacting bird habitats.

The future – not just a court decision away

Even though it seems that the future of the Ulcinj Salina is only in the hands of the court, the social pressure is rising.

When you think about environmental education, you normally imagine the long-term effect it has on youngsters. But in Montenegro environmental education is becoming a direct conservation tool. A tool that could save the Ulcinj Salina thanks to the work of CZIP: 8000 visitors in 4 years, lessons in every school of the country, billboards with birds on main roads, 3 international conferences, campaigns with embassies, souvenir shop, museum, observation towers and trails, local guides, promotion materials… and counting.

The effect on civil society is enormous – the Ulcinj flamingo has become the favourite bird for montenegrins, just a decade after they learnt it was present in the country. Every day that construction of the resort is delayed a new group of citizens is supporting the campaign.

Now it’s more probable flamingos to start breeding in Ulcinj than a new golf course to be constructed. And the value of nature to become higher than the value of money.

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