Before the establishment of the industrial park Siracusa-Priolo Gargallo, the habitat of salt pans and coastal dunes extended for many kilometres. The beauty of these places was extolled by, amongothers, Virgil, Ovid, Thucydides and da Stefano di Bizanzio. Today the nature reserve “Saline di Priolo” protects the last patch of a wide wetland which occupied a large tract of the coast between Priolo and Marina di Melilli. 216 species of bird have been recorded in the area, around 40% of all those seen up to today in Italy.
The reason the reserve was created can be found, on one hand, from the obvious value of this surviving natural patch in a coastal strip heavily transformed by human intervention, and on the other from the observation that even small areas of wetland are important to support the wildlife richness of the territory.
Of particular interest is the uncommon Caspian Tern, chosen as the logo of the reserve by virtue of the fact that it can be seen on autumn migration in the highest numbers in Italy with seasonal counts of 150-350 individuals. Also relevant is the breeding of ducks
such as the Ferruginous Duck, Common Shelduck and Northern Shoveler. For the last 2 years there have been records of their first breeding in Sicily. In autumn especially flocks of thousands of different waders are seen, together with hundreds of herons, thousands of terns and many other species.
Many “accidentals” for the country have been seen on the reserve; among these we remember the first and only Greater Sand Plover, the only Pin-tailed Snipe in Europe, Buff-breasted, Pectoral and Terek Sandpiper, Lesser crested Tern, Rüpell’s Warbler, Slender-billed Curlew and many others.
The reserve has also been adopted by a colony of Flamingos which are very popular with visitors but less so with the important breeding colony of Little Terns.
Several species of reptiles and amphibians are found among which are the very beautiful Painted Frog and the endemic Sicilian Wall Lizard.
The nature reserve, Saline di Priolo, was set up by the Sicily region in 2000 and entrusted to LIPU for management.
Services and facilities
The reserve is equipped with explanatory noticeboards and a nature library available to visitors. Public reception facilities and others such as hides and nature footpaths habitat of are currently under construction. LIPU employees are always available to visitors to show the various natural aspects of the reserve and explain its importance and characteristics. Many activities are organised: guided tours, environmental education initiatives, in particular with primary and middle schools, surveillance, research, continuous counting and monitoring of the flora and fauna of the reserve and the area in general.
Other places to visit nearby
A few hundred metres from the reserve is the Magnisi peninsula, a natural extension and complete in itself. This area is invaluable both archaeologically and naturalistically. The whole zone is dotted with evidence of the prehistoric and proto-historic civilisation (15th -9th century BCE) of Thapsos: cemeteries and caves and the foundations of the houses of the first organised village known in Sicily.
Under the natural profile the area conserves a steppe-like habitat which hosts a breeding population of calandra and greater short-toed larks with a density rarely found in Europe. Here the rare stone curlew has a breeding population known to be the most important in Sicily. In spring the peninsula is a vital stopping place for thousands of migrating passerines among which are the rare isabelline wheatear and black-eared wheatear. At the end, in the distance, you can admire the beautiful mountain stronghold of Monte Climiti which holds all the beauty, the mystery and the nature of the Hyblaen mountains, rich in history and nature. A few kilometres away is the splendid city of Syracuse, rich in art and archaeology.
Location: Saline di Priolo nature reserve, Priolo Gargallo, is a wetland forming a triangle reaching towards the isthmus which joins the mainland of the Marina of Melilli with the Magnisi peninsula a little to the north of Syracuse
Opening: the reserve is open every day, throughout the year. Guided visits for groups have to be booked; contact the reserve office.
How to get there: follow the old state road 114 “Siracusa-Catania”, then take the secondary road signposted “Thapsos” (opposite the entrance ERG). The main entrance is a short distance after the ENEL power station.
Area: 40 hectares