Atanasovsko Lake is part of the Burgas lakes complex, one of the three most significant wetlands for congregations of waterfowl along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The Atanasovsko Lake region currently supports 333 bird species, 127 of which are listed in the IUCN Red Data Book of Bulgaria and identified by Birdlife as Species of European Conservation Concern (SPEC).
Atanasovsko Lake is located on the Via Pontica migration flyway and is a typical bottleneck for migrating birds from northern, eastern and central Europe (up to 240 000 storks and up to 60 000 birds of prey). It is the site with the largest concentrations of migrating White pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus) in Europe, and second, for the Lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina) after the Bosporus.
The key bird species targeted in the project are Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola), Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Little Tern (Sterna albifrons), Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis).
The Natura 2000 site Atanasovsko Lake is the most representative of the habitat 1150* Coastal lagoons in Bulgaria and the second most representative site within the EU Black Sea Biogeographical Region after the Danube Delta. The lagoon in Atanasovsko Lake represents 6% of the coverage of this habitat in the EU Black Sea Biogeographical Region and 57% of its coverage in the Bulgarian Black Sea Biogeographical Region.
The main pressures for the Coastal lagoons? habitat in Atanasovsko Lake come from the change in water body conditions, floods, degraded connection with the sea, pollution from the surface waters and eutrophication. The disastrous flood that took place in 2010 destroyed water management facilities and changes of the hydrological and hydrochemical conditions in the Lake. The bypass channel, located around the whole lagoon was blocked by silt and vegetation. The protective dyke was broken on three places where freshwater inflow to the Lake which decreased the salinity of the lagoon. The Lake was completely freshwater. The level of the Lake had risen with 1.20 m from the incoming fresh water and these compromised the key parameters of the priority habitat Coastal lagoons.
The flood had damaged around one-third of the total length of the dykes and barriers systems (more than 30 km). The degradation of the dykes and barriers caused a loss of valuable nesting and roosting sites and was considered as one of the main reasons for the decline of the populations of ground-nesting birds.
The designation order of the SPA Atanasovsko Lake does not provide an adequate guarantee for the long-term protection of the bird species and their habitats. The designation order of the SCI Atanasovsko Lake does not exist and the Natura 2000 site does not have a management plan.
The main goal of the Salt of Life Project was to establish a functional, efficient and sustainable infrastructure for water management and the control of the coastal lagoon in Atanasovsko Lake and to provide long-term improvements to habitat conditions and enable adaptation to the effects of climate change. The project also aimed to: reduce the impact of threats to the lake?s bird species through sustainable habitat management; monitor and evaluate the effects of the proposed habitat restoration measures on the lagoon; improve the visitor experience at the site and disseminate the project results to a wide audience; and enhance public understanding of the ecological, economic and social values of the coastal lagoons and raise support for the conservation of habitats and bird species.
The Salt of Life Project successfully contributed to the restoration of the favourable conservation status of the Coastal Lagoon habitat of Atanasovsko Lake on Bulgaria?s Black Sea coast, to the benefit of the targeted bird species.
The project partners restored traditional salt production infrastructure, which resulted in the restoration of 12 000 m earth dykes, 6 000 m of wooden barriers, and the construction of 2 500 m of a new type of small dykes, which together provide 10.88 ha of suitable nesting and roosting sites for bird species protected under Annex I of the EU Birds Directive.
One important achievement was the cleaning of the bypass channel (22 930 m) and the full restoration of the protective dyke of the lagoon. The restored channel can now lead all the freshwater inflow securely to the sea, resulting in an almost constant water level inside the Lake even during the strongest rainfall events. This is very important for the favourable conditions of the hypersaline coastal lagoon. The newly emerged area of freshwater habitat in the Bypass channel (27 ha) favours the fresh water-dependent organisms.
The project team constructed or restored five artificial islands providing additional and safe nesting grounds for several bird species of conservation importance. This involved the construction of the largest Bulgarian artificial island for nesting and resting of Dalmatian pelicans (144 m2), as well as the repair of four existing artificial islands with a total area of more than 500 m2.
The artificial islands provided suitable conditions for the Common tern and the species has increased its numbers 10 times since the project start, turning Atanasovsko Lake into the most important site for it in Bulgaria. The Gull-billed tern returned as a nesting bird to Bulgaria after 18 years of absence. Its population in Atanasovsko Lake has reached 3% of the European population. All key bird species show a positive trend in their nesting behaviour. The project targeted the Coastal lagoons' habitat (1150*), a priority habitat (in danger of disappearing) of the Habitats Directive, as well as six bird species listed in Annex I of the BD. The project?s conservation actions have resulted in 46% of the Coastal lagoons' habitat (708.5 ha) reaching favourable values in terms of hydrological and hydrochemical parameters. The whole coastal lagoons habitat area (1 459 ha) has been secured against floods and nutrient-loaded water inflow from the rivers Azmak, Kurbardere and Dermerdere.
The project actions increased the coverage of the habitat Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand (1310) by 10.9 ha (10 % total area increase) within the SCI Atanasovsko Lake. This habitat is in a Favourable Conservation Status (FCS). 10.5 ha of Mediterranean salt meadows (Juncetalia maritimi) (1410) habitat was located and fully mapped (19 times bigger area than originally accepted), and now the SCI Atanasovsko Lake is the second most important territory in Bulgaria for the preservation of this important habitat. A new locality of the habitat Inland salt meadows (1340*) was discovered both for the SCI Atanasovsko Lake (3.33% of its area). New localities of the priority habitat Pannonic salt steppes and salt marshes (1530*) were also discovered, distributed in a mosaic within the inland salt meadows habitat. The plant species Ruppia maritima - typical of the Coastal lagoons' habitat, considered extinct in the Lake, was rediscovered during the project.
As a result of the project, 23 new jobs were created (15 in BS Salinas Ltd., five in BBF and three in BSPB). More places that provide goods and services have also been established around the Lake in recent years (e.g. restaurant, shops selling salt and other lake area products). They have generated financial revenue for local businesses thanks to increased visitor numbers.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).