Stagnone Lagoon Reserve near Marsala

Stagnone Lagoon Reserve near Marsala looks like an enchanted place. It remains imprinted in your memory because of its beautiful pristine landscape, its silence, the scent of the sea, the sunset coloring the low waves of the lagoon and the white mirrors of the salt pans with red shades.

Stagnone Lagoon
Foto: Maria Virzì

Seems like a place which carries you out of time. It does not seem much time has passed since the Phoenician ships sailed the waters of the Stagnone Lagoon.
This is one of those few places which fortunately construction and tourism industries have not wasted. Life seems to go on in a simple and traditional way.

What is Stagnone Lagoon?

Stagnone Lagoon from sky

First of all what is Stagnone Lagoon?

It is a stretch of sea which extends into a cove formed by the coast and one of the four islands. This separates the lagoon from the open sea. Inside there are three other islets.
In the Paleolithic (about 10,000 years ago) the islets were likely attached to the mainland. But already in the Phoenician time the lagoon had the present conformation.
As we know, Phoenicians founded a trade station in Mozia, but also during the following ages the Stagnone lagoon was appreciated for salt extraction and fishing of precious fish species.

Sea backdrops

What is its peculiarity?

Its sea backdrops are very low. Only in a few points they reach three meters deep. In some points sea is deep just 20 centimeters.
A thick vegetation of Posidonia and Cymodocea nodosa cover its backdrops.
The water temperature in winter varies between 12 ° C and 14 ° C. In summer it may touch high of 37 ° C.

Fauna in the Stagnone Lagoon

Invertebrates that populate backdrops are the Isopode Cymodoce truncata, the crab Carcinus mediterraneus, the sepia officinalis.
The beautiful sea anemone has long and flexible tentacles of various colors.
Seaweed comes with a crown of spiral tentacles and it was very common in the coastal areas of the Stagnone.
Murex, called “vuccuni”, is still present in the backdrops. It secretes the purple that Phoenicians used to dye the fabric of red.

 Fish fauna

In addition fish fauna includes about forty species of fish. The world’s most precious fish, the bass and the bream lives here. Then the saragoo, the sole, the eel, the little mullet, called trigliola and red fish.
Stagnone is also a small paradise for ornithology lovers. At certain times of the year, various species of migratory birds, stilt bird, wild ducks, herons and white or pink flamingos, nest or live here during their migrations.

Vegetation in the Stagnone Lagoon

The Stagnone Reserve has also a luxuriant vegetation typical of Mediterranean salty marshes, characterized by the presence of xerophile species adapted to high salinity. Among these, we remember the Suaeda maritima, the atriplice, the salicornia and the lemon of saltpans.
Of particular importance is the Calendula maritima, a rare endemism of this stretch of the coast of western Sicily. In fact the plant lives only in a part of Trapani coastal. The Anemone palmata grows on a sandy substrate. It is present in Italy exclusively in western Sicily and Sardinia.

Salt Route

The excellent physical and environmental conditions of the area have always fostered salt gathering, both on Longa island and on the mainland.
“Schifazzi”, a kind of ship perfect to carry salt, moved easily along the canals.
“Salt Route” is the road that from Trapani arrives to Marsala. First it passes through “Trapani and Paceco Saltpans Reserve”, then through Ettore Infersa saltpans. The last are along the Stagnone lagoon coast.

Here there are a second dock to Mozia and an old mill which has been completely restored. Inside you can visit a small Salt Museum displaying objects made with salt, work tools and models illustrating  salt production. Here you can also buy salt packaged in graceful souvenirs.

Windmill Ettore Infersa saltpans Stagnone Lagoon

Saltpans at Stagnone Lagoon
Foto: Maria Virzì

Regulation of the Reserve

The Marsala Stagnone Lagoon is a Oriented Nature Reserve since 1984. Its habitat is protected by the Regulation of the Reserve, which provides for the prohibition of hunting and fishing underwater and with nets.
Even sport fishing (through lenses and nests), although permitted, is appropriately regulated.

A sad reality about the place

Stagnone Lagoon is dying

Unfortunately in the last few years the Stagnone Lagoon is facing serious problems threatening its delicate and precious ecosystem. From the locals and fishermen came an alarm and a request to take care of such a special place. The precious fish species are disappearing day by day. It may be already too late. In these years posidonia has disappeared, and this marine plant ia a symbol of a healthy sea. A little of the submerged meadows, a meter and a half in depth, has remained.

Cause of the problems

The problem is that debris blocking the north mouth near Capo San Teodoro stops lagoon water recycling.
Here the depth is 30 centimeters, but it often reaches zero. The entering of “new” water in the lagoon, from the north mouth, is made up of two small side channels, but it is not enough to allow water recycling and oxygenating the lagoon. The Stagnone Lagoon is mainly affected by waves coming from the Northeast. But these are not enough to penetrate and remove the sediments of the North mouth.

Studies to solve the problem

From the studies conducted it seems to be one more reason. In addition to the normal sediment released by the tides which tends to enter, there is the Birgi River.
It is a river flowing a few hundred meters from the northern mouth. It has been embanked in last decades. So when Birgi river is turbid, the materials it transports, once arrived to the sea, are pushed by waves in the northern mouth, often entering the lagoon and staying there.

Solutions to the problem

By now the most credited solution by scholars is to reopen one of the canals that in the past split the Longa Isle into two parts. According to studies done, by reopening the channel of 500 meters at 1.5 meters deep the situation improves and does not change the places.
Who should do something? The Municipality, the Province or the Region? Everyone says “it is not my competence”. Meanwhile the Stagnone and all its fauna and flora are dying and before that from words they pass to facts it may be really too late.

A book about the Stagnone Lagoon

Surely the Stagnone of Marsala deserves more attention. Finally, the first monograph on the lagoon, the largest in Sicily, has been published. The Lagoon is of universal interest because of its landscape, its history, and archaeological remains.
This book is “The Stagnone of Marsala: Natural and Landscape Resource for a Sustainable Economy” written by Baldo Rallo, president of Rotary Club Marsala Lilibeo – Egadi Islands.
An editorial initiative that will make a fundamental contribution to the realization of a dream: Mozia and Lo Stagnone of Marsala Heritage of Humanity.