Photos of the Għadira Nature Reserve looking very dry (and very yellow) made the news today, with some people worrying that this might signal the beginning of the end for the Mellieħa reserve.
Lovin Malta reached out to Mark Gauci, BirdLife’s manager of the Nature Reserve, for an explanation on the whole thing, and it turns out there’s no cause for alarm after all.
“This is an extremely natural and normal process,” said Mark. “In summer, less water makes its way to the reserve, and so it dries up. There is absolutely no level of human intervention involved in the Nature Reserve, except when we remove some water during a particularly long spell of heavy rainfall in winter to make sure the reserve and the surrounding fields don’t flood.”
Interestingly, the process seems to have synched up with the birds which migrate to Malta during summer. “During summer, the Għadira Nature Reserve sees what are known as waders. These birds do just that; they don’t really swim in water, but wade in mud. The decreased level of water makes for the perfect hunting ground for these types of bird. When the water level rises again in winter, birds like ducks which dive in deep water to feed on things like algae make their way to the reserve.”
Mark went on to explain how, as the water dries up in summer, the whole reserve is subject to what is known as hyper-salinity, which simply means a higher concentration of salt. We’re talking three times the amount of salt than is normally found in seawater here, which is what makes the reserve stand out so much when compared to Għadira’s waters just across the road. Add to that an already “dirty” mix of soil and mud, and you’ve got yourself a very yellow result which definitely stands out. “Of course, the contrast is more evident because we’ve had two relatively dry winters,” Mark continued.
What’s so fascinating is that all the organisms which live in the reserve’s water, like killifish and molluscs, survive the entire process of drying up and hyper-salination (and back to “normal” come winter). “Of course, that’s essential because this is what the birds eat, so we need to constantly monitor and study them,” Mark concluded.
So there you have it everyone; the whole thing is entirely normal, but it definitely doesn’t make it less of a sight to behold.
Photos by Baskal Mallia