time to explore with esplora

Nature reserve series: salina

Salina lies at the mouth of Wied il-Għasel, a floodplain dominated by agriculture. The area has been under human influence since antiquity, with evidence of a Roman port and catacombs nearby.

In the 16th century, the Order of St. John built salt pans on the shallow estuary and for centuries, they were the main source of salt for the island. Production waned in the late 18th century, and eventually ceased altogether. The site became inactive for several decades and rare saltmarsh habitat re-established itself in some areas.

In 2008, restoration work began at Salina and in 2018, the site passed under BirdLife management to develop as a park and nature reserve.

salina view

Photo: BirdLife Malta

Permanent bodies of water are rare in the Maltese Islands, so the wetland habitats at Salina are precious for the ecosystems they harbour. The areas has one of the last, and largest, remaining saltmarshes in Malta, characterised by an esturary where sea water meets and mixes with rain water, flowing down the valley. 

This unique marshland supports a number of rare flora, such as the Saltmarsh Bindweed, Slender Sea Hard-grass and the Drooping Broomrape. Pockets of garrigue along the northern border of the saltmarsh host typical rocky-ground vegetation including Mediterranean thyme and Heath. 

black headed gulls

Photo: Aron Tanti

mediterranean killi fish

Photo: Victor Falzon

The fauna is just as important. The canal, known as Is-Sukkursu, and the saltpans, provide a habitat for the endemic subspecies of the Mediterranean Killifish, a key food for many aquatic birds. Birds are perhaps the most visible of Salina’s natural attributes.

They are ever-present at the site but vary in species and number, according to the season. Hundreds of black-headed and Mediterranean gulls throng the low walls and shallow parts of the pans during winter, and mingle with rarer birds like Audouin’s Gull and Little Gull. Flamboyant species like the Greater Flamingo frequently drop in, as do small group of Great Cormorants. 

greater flamingo

Photo: Aron Tanti

Most birds use Salina as their wintering home, or for short re-fuelling stops during Spring and Autumn. Ducks, grebes, rails, herons and egrets also occur, as do waders, like the Black-winged stilt and Little Ringed Plovers. These occasionally also nest at the site, as do few pairs of Reed Warblers.

Salina is open on a daily basis. The main path along the salt pans is open during daylight hours (April – September: 7am-8pm, October – March: 7am-6pm). The boardwalk, on the north side, however, is open at all times. The visitor centre is open Monday – Friday, from 8am to 4pm. A number of bird-watching hides are also available. Entrance is free but donations are welcome.

For more information, please check out BirdLife Salina Nature Reserve here.