The coast east of Nador offers compelling sites for birdwatching – and plant wildlife – with a series of highly frequented freshwater and saline sites.
At Kariet Arekmane a path leads out, opposite the village mosque, past salt pans and a pumping station (right-hand side) to an extensive area of salt marsh. This is covered by the fleshy-stemmed marsh glasswort or salicornia: a characteristic “salt plant” or halophyte, it can survive the saline conditions through the use of glands which excrete the salt. The insect life of the salt marsh is abundant, including damselflies, brightly coloured grasshoppers and various ants and sand spiders. The birds are even more impressive, with black-winged stilt, greater flamingo, coot, great-crested grebe, and various gulls and terns wheeling overhead.
Further along the coast, a walk east of the resort of Ras el Ma demonstrates the means by which plants invade sand dunes: a sequential colonization is known as “succession”, where one plant community gradually cedes to the next as a result of its own alteration of the environment. Typical early colonizers are marram grass and sea couch, which are eventually ousted by sea holly and sea spurge and finally by large, “woodier” species such as pistacihu, juniper and cistus species. Whole sequences can be seen occurring over time along the beach. The area attracts a variety of interesting sea birds as well, including the internationally rare slender-billed curlew and Audouin’s gull (thought to breed on the adjacent offshore Chafarinas Islands). Other more familiar birds include dunlin, Kentish plover and oystercatcher.
Even further along the coast is the freshwater lagoon system that marks the mouth of the Oued Moulouya. The lagoons here are separated from the sea by a remarkable series of sand spits, no more than fifty metres across, and the birdlife is outstanding. Secluded among the reedbeds, it is possible to locate grey heron, white stork and little egret while the water’s surface is constantly patrolled by the ever-alert black terns and kingfishers. Other varieties that you should manage to spot, wading in the shallows, are redshank, spotted redshank (in summer) and black-tailed godwit. The mouth and adjacent wetlands are, however, under serious threat from tourism development. In response to local and international pressure, a small parcel of wetland encompassing the mouth has been declared a protected area funded by, among others, the Global Environmental Fund and UNDP. Bird hides and information signboards have been erected along a marked walking path.
The Spanish-owned Islas Chafarinas, incidentally, are another important wildlife site, which has been declared a nature reserve. The three small islets support the Mediterranean’s largest sea-bird colonies; sadly, the endangered monk seals disappeared from the islands in the 1990s and haven’t been seen since.