Spain ranks fifth globally with 76 Ramsar-listed wetlands, but 85% suffer alarming conservation issues.

The Albufera wetlands include a freshwater lagoon and estuary on the Gulf of Valencia. The lake covers 3,000 hectares (15% of the Albufera surface), making it Spain’s largest freshwater lake. The Albufera is facing the threats of water pollution, disrupted flow, marsh silting, and urbanization. Its proximity to Valencia has intensified pressures from infrastructure development, tourism, and recreational activities. Adjacent to the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast of Eastern Spain, the Albufera wetlands remain however a hotspot for biodiversity and provide crucial resources for local communities.

Fishing has been an integral part of human history in the Albufera lake. Three fishing communities (Catarroja, Silla, and El Palmar) continue this tradition, though the declining water quality has diminished the variety and abundance of prized species. The marshlands, once part of the lake, now serve as expansive areas dedicated to rice cultivation, a cornerstone of the local human and natural ecosystem. The agricultural field covers almost three-quarters of the Albufera surface and we can still find traditional rice cultivation techniques – like ‘fangueo’ – in this area.

The Albufera gained global recognition in 1989 when it was added to the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Spain ranks 5th globally with 76 Ramsar-listed wetlands, but 85% suffer alarming conservation issues. This photo essay by Juan Solbes emanates from his book with boatman Vicente M. Muñoz Gras La Albufera de Valencia. DESDE DENTRO (2022) that transmits a harmonious blend of nature, agriculture, and cultural heritage.

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A farmer uses a horse to plow his rice field.
The lake is connected to the sea with canals like this one. Only fresh water flows through the canals. The difference in level prevents salt water from entering the lagoon, as well as the existing artificial floodgates. This is fundamental since the Albufera is responsible for filtering and accumulating all the sediments before the water reaches the sea.
‘Ullals’ are underground water springs that create small lagoons and drains isolated from the rest of the wetlands. Due to their special characteristics, ‘ullals’ often constitute true refuges of biodiversity.
A view of the ‘fangueo’, from inside one of the tractors.
A fisherman at dawn casts his nets into the water to gather the fruits of his labor.
A Typical dwelling in the region.
Rice in the bush. The rice as it is collected in its ears. With its husk and its protections to offer us the best of the fruits.
This heron descends at full speed from above, with astonishing aerodynamics, to secure the prey it needs to survive.
Sunset over the lagoon of Albufera seen from a typical Albufera boat with a Latin sail.
Tancats’ have been created to purify the water naturally.
A farmer sows seeds on his flooded rice field. The seeds will begin to sprout within a couple of days.
The rice fields are flooded during autumn and winter.
‘Ullals’ have been recovered slowly and are now water springs that fill the whole Albufera with life.
Rice fields in July and August.
An intense-eyed osprey patiently awaits its next prey. This raptor, strictly tied to aquatic environments and exclusively piscivorous in its feeding habits, is one of the rarest birds of prey, having been on the brink of extinction in the second half of the 20th century. In the Albufera, it is typically found during winter as part of migratory passages.

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