Vendicari Faunistic Oasis

The Oriented Nature Reserve Faunistic Oasis of Vendicari is located in the province of Syracuse, between Noto and Marzamemi. Officially established in 1984 but effectively accessible only in 1989, it spans 1450 hectares of territory defined as an ‘internationally important wetland’ according to the Ramsar Convention of 1971 and is managed by the Regional Public Forest Company.

The Vendicari Reserve covers approximately 1512 hectares, of which 937 are pre-reserve dedicated to agriculture (citrus groves, olive groves, vineyards, and vegetable gardens). It includes archaeological and architectural settlements that testify to human life in these places since ancient Greek times, such as traces of tanks-depositories from a Roman-era fish processing plant, a small necropolis, and a Swabian Tower, built at the end of the 14th century in the Aragonese period; a tuna fishery, channels connecting to the sea, and other buildings for fish processing, active until almost the mid-20th century.

The presence of large, highly saline marshes has contributed to the creation of an ecosystem that is a reference point for birds coming from Africa. It includes different biotopes: rocky coast, sandy coast, Mediterranean scrub, marshes (brackish and freshwater), salt pans, garrigue, and cultivated areas. Among typically Mediterranean vegetation, including dwarf palms, rosemary, broom, sea fennel, myrtles, and oleanders, one can observe pink flamingos, storks, seagulls, herons, Italian knights, and much more.

The marshes of Piccolo, Grande, Roveto, and the two smaller ones of Sichilli and Scirbia are its focal point. Among the three, only Pantano Piccolo never dries up, thanks to the presence of brackish water springs. The average depth of the three main marshes is 30-40 cm, the maximum is 1-2 m. The reserve is rich in beaches: to the north, there is the Eloro beach, next to the Marianelli beach, Calamosche, the Vendicari beach near the tuna fishery, and to the south, the San Lorenzo beach

The area was inhabited during the Byzantine period (until the 6th century AD). Inside, there are the Swabian Tower, probably built by Pietro d’Aragona, Count of Alburquerque and Duke of Noto (1406-1438), brother of Alfonso V d’Aragona, King of Spain and Sicily (1416-1458), and the Vendicari tuna fishery, built in 1700, various establishments, and fishermen’s houses. The tuna fishery ceased its activity in 1943.

In the nearby district of Caddeddi, the Roman villa of Tellaro is located, dating back to the 4th century AD, with a mosaic floor depicting hunting scenes and other themes, considered among the most beautiful in Italy.

Numerous bird species stop at Vendicari: waders, gray herons, storks, flamingos, and also the mallard, seagulls, cormorants, and the Italian knight that stops here on its journey from the Sahara Desert to nesting sites in northern Europe. December is the best month for birdwatching. In addition to birds, there are amphibians such as the green toad (Bufo siculus); among reptiles, the green whip snake (Hierophis viridiflavus), the leopard snake (Elaphe situla), and the Sicilian pond turtle (Emys trinacris). Among the present mammals, there are foxes, hedgehogs, porcupines, and wild rabbits. Among the insects, the presence of two cycadales is noteworthy: Lophyra flexuosa circumflexa and Calomera littoralis nemoralis.

As a ‘coastal wetland area,’ the Vendicari Reserve is rich in water but with a high salinity content. Therefore, only those plant and animal organisms capable of adapting to such an environment can live in its ecosystems. Halophyte plants (adapted to high salt concentration soils) have developed to eliminate excess salts, while succulents accumulate fresh water reserves in their tissues; other plants such as juniper, tamarisks, and glassworts, with reduced leaf surfaces, minimize transpiration and water loss. The coastal strip is a continuous alternation of sandy and rocky stretches, so the vegetation shows a corresponding alternation between associations of rock plants and associations of psammophile plants (sand lovers).

In rocky stretches, proceeding from the sea inland, different layers of species are found:

-Alophilo-rocky strip: sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum), spiny chicory (Cichorium spinosum), in its only Italian station, Limonium syracusanum, Limonium virgatum.

-Narrow garigue strip: thyme (Thymus capitatus), dwarf palm (Chamaerops humilis), Myrtle spurge (Thymelaea hirsuta), tree germander (Teucrium fruticans), bulbous iris (Iris planifolia), Prasium majuszò, many species of orchids.

-Shrub strip: mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis).

-Narrow garigue strip, Mediterranean scrub: mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), wild olive tree (Olea europaea sylvestris), mock privet (Phillyrea angustifolia), myrtle (Myrtus communis), maritime squill (Urginea maritima), and dwarf palm (Chamaerops humilis).

-Alophilo-hygrophilous strip: Arthrocnemum glaucum, Juncus subulatus, Salicornia fruticosa, Salicornia radicantis, Triglochin bulbosum, Hordeum maritimum, Limonium serotinum, Hyparrhenia hirta, Lotus edulis, Stipa retorta, Trifolium stellatum, Iris sisyrinchium, true sea lavender (Limonium vulgare), sea lavender (Limonium serotinum), Halimione portulacoides, salt marsh grass (Distichlis spicata), Mediterranean cordgrass (Spartina maritima), Halocnemum strobilaceum, Atriplex prostrata, Salsola soda, and Suaeda vera.

-Submerged vegetation in the marshes, flooded for long periods of the year: Ruppia maritima, Potamogeton pectinatus, Lamprothanium papulosum.

-Vegetation on the inner banks of the marshes: Scirpus spp., Carex spp., Juncus spp., common reed (Phragmites australis), and giant reed (Arundo donax).

-Strip of large rhizomatous grasses: Agropyrum junceum mediterraneum, Sporobolus arenarius, sea holly (Eryngium marittima), Echinophora spinosa, Cyperus capitatus, cuttlefish grass (Cutandia maritima), beach medick (Medicago marina), Larenea resedifolia, Pancratium maritimum.

– Juniper scrub (Juniperus macrocarpa), Ephedra fragilis, Pistacia lentiscus, Phillyrea angustifolia, Clematis cirrhosa, Rosmarinus officinalis.

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