The Port Authority of Seville and CSIC take a census of more than 50 species of aquatic birds

28 April 2021

The new work philosophy followed by the Port of Seville for Working with nature, has borne its first results in the Guadalquivir estuary. The Port Authority of Seville (APS) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have recorded a total of 52 species of aquatic birds in the Port of Seville’s confined disposal facilities. The species have used these spaces as areas for refuge, feeding and reproduction once they were adapted after the 2019 campaign for the maintenance of the navigation channel.

Of the total recorded, four species are listed as in danger of extinction: the ferruginous duck, marbled duck, squacco heron and the red-knobbed coot; and one, the western osprey, as vulnerable.

The confined disposal facilities are areas where the Port of Seville deposits the sediments extracted from the navigation channel during maintenance dredging campaigns. As a novelty in 2019, the Port Authority has applied a protocol drawn up by the CSIC to encourage the presence of birds and to set up alternative areas for aquatic birds in the Doñana area.

The protocol has consisted in adapting the confined disposal facilities with islands and dikes, maintaining the water level without this depending on the hydrological cycle. In this way, birds have been able to have alternative wetlands at times of low rainfall, between spring and summer. This season, winter rainfall has been low, so the role of shelter in the confined disposal facilities has become more important.

So far in 2020, nine species have successfully nested.  Among them is the ferruginous duck, a very rare species listed in the National Catalogue of Threatened Species as in danger of extinction.

Other breeding species have also been observed, such as the black-winged stilt, the pied avocet, the Eurasian coot, the mallard, the red-crested pochard, the little grebe, common moorhen and little-ringed plover.

The success of breeding in the Port of Seville's confined disposal facilities lies in the fact that they provide a more stable, safer space, without the presence of predators or disturbances that could affect the breeding of the species. In fact, artificial islands built with the sediments have provided new refuge areas where the nesting period has been longer than in other usual breeding areas.

The presence of greater flamingoes, purple gallinule, glossy ibis, Eurasian spoonbill and purple heron, which have used the area for feeding, has also been recorded in the confined disposal facilities, as well as many species of wintering and passing waders and other species of waterfowl.

"Thanks to the collaboration between the scientific community and the Port of Seville, we have been able to bring together the operational functions of the confined disposal facilities with their environmental value, creating a place of interest for the community of aquatic birds in the estuary," said Rafael Carmona, president of the Port Authority of Seville.

In turn, the protocol's main researcher, Miguel Ferrer Baena, emphasizes that "this project is a beautiful example of how, with a little research, we can develop human activities not only without damaging the environment but also by increasing biodiversity and environmental health". "We can and must change the way we act if we want to have a world full of life," he says. 

On the other hand, the protocol establishes guidelines for the nesting of the bee-eater, included in the List of Wild Species under Special Protection. For this purpose, permanent and temporary slopes have been created and colonized by the species.

In this regard, the EBD/CSIC researcher and head of project monitoring, Roberto Muriel, states that "the implementation of tailor-made actions in these relatively modest enclosures has allowed the stable presence and successful reproduction of aquatic birds in an environment highly dependent on weather and agricultural practices".

More aquatic birds in the estuary

The Port of Seville is the first Spanish port to bring together the management of sediments from maintenance dredging with the creation of a habitat that favours the wealth, abundance and diversity of aquatic birds, and enhances nesting and reproductive success in the environment.

Specifically, the CSIC protocol has been applied in the La Horcada and Butano. This has consisted of the creation of eight islets made from the river sediments themselves, each with an area of between 200 and 50 square metres.

Likewise, the integral management protocol provides for the rotating use of the confined disposal facilities. Segmentation into ponds in order to make environmental actions compatible with the management and extraction of sediments that can be used in agriculture and civil works.

‘Working with nature' is an integral way of tackling the challenges of the Port of Seville, not only by minimising the impact on the environment or adopting corrections to these impacts, but also by favouring environmental development and improving nature in order to achieve mutual benefit between the Port and the surroundings of the Guadalquivir.

Maintenance of the channel

Maintenance work on the channel is part of the operational measures included in the 'Waterway Optimisation Programme'. These tasks consist of carrying out precision bathymetries to determine the points of action and the subsequent suction of the sediments accumulated at these points with a dredger.

Thus, the Port Authority of Seville maintains the current levels of the navigation channel, without exceeding the authorised depths, to ensure full security in the access by sea to Seville.

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