Salinas de Ibiza y Formentera Nature Reserve, Spain


Salinas de Ibiza y Formentera Nature Reserve is a World Heritage site in Spain located at 38°46'N-1°26'E.

Geographical Location

The World Heritage Site (nominated under both natural and cultural criteria) is located in the Balearic Islands, Western Mediterranean. Ibiza and Formentera are situated on the South-West of the Balearic Islands, the latter being located on the South of Ibiza. 38°46'N-1°26'E.

Date and History of Establishment

The nominated site is included in the Salinas de Ibiza y Formentera Nature Reserve, which was established as such by National Law 26 of 1995. Part of the nominated site has also received international recognition as Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention in 1993; the site has also been declared as Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European Community Birds Directive (92/43/EC). Inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1999.


8,564 hectares (ha).

Land Tenure

Publicly owned.


From 0 to -40 meters (m).

Physical Features

caption Location of Ibiza. (Source: NASA)

The terrestrial component of the nominated World Heritage Site includes the small islands of Freus (Penjats, Espardell and Espalmador) and the coastal lagoons and saltworks areas (Las Salinas) on the islands of Ibiza and Formentera. The marine component includes the open sea between these islands up to limit of the isobar of 40 m depth. The biggest part of the submarine ground in the "Salinas" Nature Reserve is a vast submarine platform with sandy substrate, which spreads between Ibiza and Formentera Islands. The average depth of that platform is about -15 m. Particularly around the Island of Formentera, there are coastal reefs 4 m in height, the highest reef reported world-wide of this origin.


No detailed information.


The nominated World Heritage Site is characterized by dense and very well preserved oceanic Posidonia sea-grasses and coral reefs. There is a highly diverse community dominated by Cladocora caespitosa, which supports 220 species, the highest record for a marine community in the Mediterranean basin. Other communities present include that formed by Ecteinascidia turbinata, a species with recognized value to prevent and combat different types of cancer.

The terrestrial component include important ecosystems associated with the saltworks areas (Las Salinas de Ibiza y Forementera). These areas hold 11 species of endemic plants, 7 species classified as rare and 8 considered as vulnerable. The area also contains well-preserved examples of Juniperus sp. forest, which was the typical coastal forest of the Mediterranean region but is now confined to only in a few sites in Europe. In the Island of Espalmador there is probably one of the few relict samples of this forest of the entire Mediterranean.


The area contains populations of several species of conservation concern, including the Mediterranean monk seal (CR), which is one of the twelve most threatened mammal species in the world.

There is a highly diverse bird fauna with 205 recorded species, most of them concentrated on the coastal lagoons and saltworks, of which 171 are migratory species. There are also five species of mammals, all of them endemic to Ibiza and Formentera, 11 reptiles and 56 species of invertebrates.

Cultural Heritage

caption Mediterranean monk seal. (Source: NOAA)

The site has been nominated as a Mixed Natural and Cultural World Heritage Site. It includes the ancient town of Ibiza and its fortress system, which represents a close linkage between the cultural and the natural environment. This is evident in the presence of more than 10 underwater archaeological sites related to the Late Bronze Age helping to understand old trade and interactions in the Western Mediterranean. Most of these archaeological sites are far from being adequately studied.

The site also presents a series of underwater caves that offer important elements to assess the geological and geomorphological evolution of the islands. In the Island of Formentera the local population is still applying traditional land use patterns that have been in place for the last 300 years. This has created a living cultural landscape that takes visitors to the island back to the Middle Ages. Thanks to this traditional use, saltworks (except one) are in an exceptional state of conservation and still have an optimal aquatic system. This explains the preservation of natural resources and the existence on these sites of unique ecosystems.

The Salinas de Ibiza y de Formentera Nature Reserve demonstrates that man and nature can live together, that exploiting an area does not mean inevitably to degrade it. The quality of the salt produced in the saltworks of Ibiza and Formentera (Las Salinas) depends on the quality of the coastal waters which, in turn, depends to a great extent on the ecological functions of the Posidonia prairies. Local people fully understand this and it is the basis of their concern for the protection of the marine environment.

Local Human

The two closest villages to the nominated site, Sant Francesc and Sant Josep had a population of 4,769 and 9,851 inhabitants in 1991, respectively (representing a density of 52 and 61 inhabitants per square kilometer).

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

An information office for visitors has been set up in Ibiza, the capital, and leaflets introducing the Nature Reserve and the Special Protection Area are edited.

Scientific Research and Facilities

A program of environmental research is being carried out in the Salinas de Ibiza and Formentera Nature Reserve. Statistics on the evolution of the environment and a record of various environmental data (frequency of forest fires, variations in the quantity-quality of water resources, etc.) are undertaken every year.

There is an on-going agreement with the University of Valencia, the University of Madrid and the Ecological Group of Balearic Islands (GOB) to continue with the research and monitoring activities in the reserve.

Conservation Value

The Oceanic Posidonia sea-grasses are an important marine community only found in the Mediterranean basin. In its climax stage and under exceptional conditions of transparency and unpolluted waters, this species offer protection from storms to coral reefs and coastal areas. The Posidonia sea-grasses also have high importance as a hatchery for a variety of marine fish. This function is particularly important for the maintenance of fish stock thus being an essential element for sustainable fisheries. One hectare of oceanic Posidonia produces 21 tons/year of biomass, similar to the productivity of a tropical forest (22 tons/year/ha). Furthermore these sea-grasses play a very important role in purifying coastal waters as they retain sediments and oxygenate waters.

Conservation Management

A management plan exists for the area and is being implemented. There are two administrative centers for the protection and management of this reserve, one in the Island of Ibiza, that serves as headquarters, and a second one on the island of Formentera. The Management Committee, requested by the law, has not been set up yet so the reserve management is being carried out by various organizations which undertake specific operational aspects, depending on their field.

Management Constraints

This particular sea-grass community is increasingly under threat across the Mediterranean Sea, mainly due to increasing levels of pollution. Consequently, oceanic Posidonia communities are included as a priority ecosystem for protection under the Habitat 2000 Directive (92/43/ECC) and under Annex IV of the Berne Convention. According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) this is a highly threatened ecosystem in the Mediterranean Basin.

It was recently reported that a new submarine pipeline to discharge waters from a treatment plant in the urban areas of Ibiza was under consideration. There have been several local objections to this plan. Additional information has been received by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN noting that the Government of the Balearic Islands has not allowed the construction of the submarine pipeline within the boundaries of the site and that it proposed to evaluate other alternatives.

After the last session of the World Heritage Bureau and Committee (July 1999), International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has received information related to the approval by the EC of a project to reform and expand the port of Ibiza. IUCN considers that this project, implying the construction of a dike to regulate coastal dynamics so as to offer greater protection to port facilities and operations, could potentially impact the natural values of the marine area.


There are 10 permanent staff working in the area with four vehicles for terrestrial patrolling and one boat for marine patrolling. Control on the use of the reserve is also supported by the local police and the National Coast Guards. This team is composed of specialists in natural resources management, environment interpretation, information (2 guides), environment conservation education (oceanograph and biologist) and in resources monitoring (zoologist and botanist). Rangers and technical staff in the reserve receive systematic training in management practices and biological monitoring as part of the agreements between the University of Valencia, the University of Madrid and with the Ecological Group of Balearic Islands (GOB).


The total annual budget for conservation and management is around 4 million US$.

IUCN Management Category

  • Las Salinas de Ibiza y Formentera Nature Reserve
  • IV (Wildlife Reserve)
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii; iv

Further Reading

  • Ayuntamiento de Ibiza (1998). UNESCO Patrimoine Mondial - Demande d'Inscription: IBIZA, Biodiversité et Culture. Tomes I-IV
  • Dominguez Lozano, F. Galicia Herbada, D. Moreno Rivero, L. Moreno Saiz, J.C. SainzOllero, H. (1996). Threatened plants in Peninsular and Balearic Spain: a report based on the EU Habitats Directive. Biological Conservation v. 76 (2) :123-133.
  • IUCN (1996). 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 368 pp. + Annexes. ISBN: 2831703352.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Salinas de Ibiza y Formentera Nature Reserve, Spain. Retrieved from


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