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Balkan's Largest Lake

Skadar Lake

Area in hectares: 40,000
Altitude: 6-9 m
Conservation status: National park (1983); IBA (1989); Ramsar area (1995), Emerald site under the Bern convention
Coordinates: 42°11’2.14″N; 19°17’36.17″E
IBA criteria: A1, A3, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2


Skadar Lake is located in Zeta-Skadar valley. Two-thirds of the lake belongs to Montenegro, whilst the rest is Albanian territory. Surface area of the lake varies from 375 to 540 km2. Average depth of the lake is 4 m. The total quantity of water changes two to three times per year. The greatest quantity of water it gets from the Morača River, more than 60%, but there are also underwater springs, Raduš and Karuč as the biggest, than a number of rivers, Plavnica, Gostiljska, Crnojević River and others. The Bojana River connects the lake with the sea. It is a subtopic lake and it never freezes which is the base for organic production. The north coast is short, swampy and goes into the Zeta valley. South coast is steep and jagged. Along the coast there are islands Starčevo, Beška, Moračnik, Tophala, Gradac, Dužica, Skut, Grmožur and many other. Most of the islands have cultural significance because of the very old monasteries and castles.


The lake has 281 species of birds registered so far. More than 90% of that number makes a mobile, migratory bird fauna. The capacity of the lake as the breeding site is large that was mostly used by: Podiceps cristatus, Tachybaptus ruficollis, Pelecanus crispus, Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Phalacrocorax carbo, Ardea cinerea, A. purpurea, Egretta garzetta, Ardeola ralloides, Botaurus Stellaris, Nycticorax nycticorax, Bubulcus ibis, Fulica atra, Chlidonias hybrida, Larus michahellis and Plegadis falcinellus. The most important breeding birds on the lake are the pelican and pygmy cormorant. The pelican is in the most western point of its areal and the cormorant, with more than 2,000 pairs, is one of the largest colonies of the endangered species in the world. More than 80 species of birds are breeding on the lake. Skadar Lake is also important as the wintering place, especially for the common coot, Fulica atra, which “carries” 60-80% of the total number of breeding wintering population of birds on the lake. There are also grebes, Podiceps cristatus, P. nigricollis; mallard, Anas plathyrynchos; common teal, A. crecca; Northern pintail, A. acuta; Eurasian wigeon, A. penelopa; tufted duck, Aythya fuligula; common pochard, A. ferina; ferruginous duck, A. nyroca; common moorhen, Gallinula chloropus; water rail, Rallus aquaticus; gull, L. ridibundus and others. 45 bird species are regular winter guests. Not less popular are migratory waves in autumn and spring of a large number of species that rest on the lake. Ornithological reserves Pančevo oko, Crni žar and Manstirska tapija, provide for excellent conditions for breeding.


Ecosystem of the Skadar Lake is extremely complex, sub Mediterranean type. This area includes a variety of biotopes: water biotope, marsh vegetation biotope, floodplain forests and meadows biotope, forests and scrub biotope and biotope of bushes and rocks … This indicates to floral and vegetation diversity. Congregation of floating plants makes swamp vegetation, which takes up large area along the north coast and bays. Water lilies and water caltrops are most present. Large surface of the lake is under reed, Phragmites sp. There are willows, Salix sp present on floodplain areas. The only indigenous willow forest is the Manastirska tapija at the mouth of the Morača River, which shows the tendency of spreading. In the forests and boscage of the coastal zone and higher positions on the south karst coast, the most common of species is Carpinus orientalis – hornbeam and oak, Quercus ilex, and on the islands the laurel, Laurus nobilis. Sage, Salvia officinalis, grows on the rocks. There are the remains of maquis that used to flourish here. Skadar Lake has about 45 species fish with the domination of carp, Cyprinus caprio; goldfish, Carassius auratus gibellio, and bleak, Alburnus alburnus alborella.


The general condition of the ecosystem is not satisfying. The decline in number of wintering bird population occurs as a consequence of several factors, the most common of which disturbance, poaching, early and intensive hunting. The lake is not zoned, so the tourist pressure, especially during summer months, is transferred to all its parts. Water quality of the Morača River at its inflow into the lake is extremely unsatisfactory. However, disturbance and loss of habitat are, it seems, crucial factors in the decline of the large number of bird species from the lake, starting from the harvesting of willow and laurel wood, and to a lesser extent cane harvest, illegal and legal construction, driving a speedboat, sailing, exploitation of gravel from the ornithological reserves of Manastirska tapija and others.

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