Albufera nature reserve is at the northeast coast of the island, between Port d'Alcudia and Can Picafort. It has been a Special Protection Zone for Birds since 1979 and a nature park since 1988.
While the name Albufera has its origins in Arabic, the word translates to English as coastal lagoon.
The saltwater wetlands are the largest on the island and while they cover an area of 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares), it was three times the size in Roman times. Over the years the people of Sa Pobla and Muro worked hard to drain the mosquito infested marshlands, using windmills and drainage channels mills to create fertile fields. The flat, open farmland area to the west of the nature reserve bears testament to their labours and many of the windmills are still standing.
In the 1870s the decision was taken to reduce the area of the wetlands to create more farmland. Englishman John Bateman (1810-1889) had been designing reservoirs and waterworks for over 50 years and he was known as 'the greatest dam-builder of his generation'.
As well as working on clean water supply systems for cities across the Great Britain and Ireland, he designed them for cities in the Mediterranean and South America. Bateman was asked to work in Mallorca and he set up the Mallorca Land Company. His drainage scheme created work for many out of work labourers and succeeded in creating hundreds of acres of fertile land to the east of Sa Pobla and Muro.
Albufera is covered in reeds, bulrushes and sedges and over 60 species of fungi grow on the reed beds. The brackish water is home to 29 species of fish, as well as eels, frogs, water snakes and turtles. While the air is filled with dragon flies and butterflies, it is the birds that people come to see; both for the variety and the numbers. 271 different species have been recorded in s'Albufera, many of them migrating birds stopping for food and shelter, making it an important ornithological centre.
Some birds live here all year round but the majority are passing through on their way south during their annual migration while some stay here for the winter.
The best way to see the reed beds is to drive along Carretera de s'Albufera between Sa Pobla and Port d'Alcudia. You can also drive along the coast road and stop off at one of the many parking places. There is an information centre at the park entrance, next to Englishman's Bridge (named after John Bateman). Visitors can also arrange to be taken on guided walks and hikes to see the wildlife. Check www.mallorcaweb.net/salbufera for details.
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