The European Commission has approved the Project LIFE+ ‘Conservation of Temporary Ponds in the Southwest Coast of Portugal’ (LIFE12NAT/PT/997), whose acronym is LIFE CHARCOS. It is coordinated by the ‘Liga para a Protecção da Natureza’ [Nature Protection League] (LPN in portuguese), under partnership with several public and private institutions, such as Évora University (UÉvora in portuguese), Algarve University (UAlg in portuguese), Municipality of Odemira (CMO in portuguese), and the Beneficiaries of Mira Association (ABM in portuguese).
The Project LIFE CHARCOS aims to promote the conservation of a priority habitat – the Mediterranean Temporary Ponds (MTP) (priority habitat 3170* of the Annex I of EU Habitats Directive) - which is increasingly threatened due to its ecological fragility and by a lack of knowledge regarding its natural value. Moreover, in the last two-decades, land management options, such as modern industrialised agriculture and tourism have caused a steep decline in the condition of this habitat in the N2000 site.
Traditionally seen as non-productive areas, MTPs are nowadays subjected to strong anthropogenic pressures, such as deep soil turning, accelerated drainage, flattening of the surface topography or transformation into permanent reservoirs for irrigation. Therefore, urgent action is needed in order to reverse the trend and assure their long-term protection
The singularity of this habitat is strictly related to diversity and the peculiarity of its inhabitants. The associated flora and fauna are very specific and well adapted to rotation of extreme conditions of flooding and draught, according to the time of the year. The MTP’s are wetlands where the occurrence of water depends on the annual precipitation and on local hydrogeological conditions.
Some of the fauna species that are present, such as freshwater crustaceans, are endemic and have a very restricted distribution area. The most important example is the Triops vicentinus, which is considered a living fossil, as it exists since the age of dinosaurs and is only found in the Vicentina Coast. Ponds also represent a vital habitat for reproduction of amphibians, which means that they are the only freshwater habitat where almost all the existing local species of amphibians are found.
The Project LIFE CHARCOS will be implemented at the Site of Community Importance (SCI) of the Southwest Coast, within the Natura 2000 network (partially occupying the Natural Parks of Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast), more specifically at the wetlands of the Odemira Municipality and in the plateau of Vila do Bispo - since these locations have some of the main cores of temporary ponds in the country.
The foreseen activities are quite diverse, among them are:
• Production of georeferenced cartography on ponds and associated biodiversity;
• Study the hydrogeological functioning of these habitats;
• Set out management rules for maintaining a favourable conservation status of temporary ponds;
• Ecological restoration techniques will be demonstrated;
• Assure the connectivity between these habitats;
• Recovering one pond for educational and presentational purposes;
• Creating a seeds bank specifically for this habitat, which will be used in restoration actions and as a safekeeping of genetic reference for the flora of the habitat;
• Raising awareness about this habitat's value, the emblematic species it hosts, and the importance of conserving this millennial natural heritage.
Therefore, this Project is expected to drastically reduce the declining tendency of the MTP’s as witnessed so far – an estimated decline of 52% in the last 10 years, only in the Odemira municipality - and to be able to recover ponds with an unfavourable conservation status.
The Programme LIFE-Nature of the European Commission funds 75% of this project, which has a total budget of about 2 million Euros. The Project LIFE CHARCOS will have a duration of 5 years, going from July 2013 until Septembre 2018.
The Southwest Coast of Portugal hosts an extraordinary natural heritage which includes the MTP's and the associated flora and fauna. It is believed that MTP-s may be used to boost sustainable local development, such as sustainable touristic activities. This project also represents an important contribution in order to implement the Natura 2000 Network (European Network of Nature Areas) and to promote the European strategy of halting its loss of biodiversity until 2020.