The Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park is a biological jewel amid a hostile environment. This particular mosaic of mats, reeds, pine groves, fragments of virgin marsh and beaches of dunes miraculously survives with their backs to an industrial belt and urban centers. Its complex ecological universe throbs in the shadow of the beloved city of Cádiz, immersed in an atmosphere of marked metropolitan mood.
Crucible of races and cultures, has managed to resist the attacks of man and time after millennia of intense occupation. Three thousand years ago, the Tartessos, the oldest civilization in the west, occupied the Guadalquivir mouth. Later the Phoenicians arrived from the east, who settled there the commercial colony of Gades, millenarian ascendant of the current capital of Cádiz.
The Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park extends to occupy part of the municipalities of El Puerto de Santa María, Puerto Real, San Fernando, Cádiz and Chiclana de la Frontera. In the western area as a protected area since 1989 and in the east hosting two special protection areas, cataloged as Natural Area: the Trocadero Island with 525 hectares and the Marshes of Sancti Petri with 170 hectares. Both have restricted access and require obtaining a permit to visit them.
Its coasts also boil life with the richness and variety of fishing and seafood resources that have marked the culture, traditions, customs and history of its people.
The Guadalete River in ancient times excavated a large estuary on the coast and with the help of the Atlantic, it led the geological process that gave rise to the Bay of Cádiz. Its serpentine channel crosses the entire surface of marshes and salinas in the company of the San Pedro River, the Sancti Petri spout (spinal cord from the Cádiz salinas), the Merced spout or the Águila spout. The erosive action of this fluvial network and the intense waves that shake its coastline forged its beaches, sands and dunes.
With a mild climate and scarce rainfall, it receives the summer visit of both the fresh and wet winds of the east and the hot and dry west winds that come from North Africa.
The Sancti Petri spout, crosses the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park and evacuates its waters towards the Bay of Cádiz and towards the Atlantic. When the tide grows it is possible to trace its course from the Nautical Club of Sancti Petri in Chiclana de la Frontera for about 18 kilometers. Soon after embarking on the route, the splendor of the Natural Area of the Marsh of Sancti Petri appears on its right margin. Then, the numerous secondary pipes that receive their waters and salinas flow in a labyrinth shape. From Punta del Boquerón, end of the sandy bar that partially closes the Sancti Petri spout, you can see a beautiful views to the castle of Sancti Petri. It sits on an island and when the tide is high seems to emerge from the sea, although at low tide it is possible to access it through a tongue of sand.
Another of its charms is the wonderful Pinar de La Algaida, a forest mass surrounded by pastures in the vicinity of Puerto Real, El Puerto de Santa María and Cádiz. In plethoric state of conservation.
The Marshes of the Toruños encloses all the flavor of the “marismeño” landscape in its purest state. When the tide whips hard it is spectacular to see how its firm land disappears before our eyes and is completely covered by a liquid sheet. Through it we enter the beautiful beach of Levante that houses 4 kilometers of semi-virgin coastline, with dunes of blond sand, from where you get a panoramic view of the entire Bay of Cádiz. Other beautiful and extensive beaches are the beach of Camposoto or beach of the Castle, framed by a cordon of dunes, as well as the beach of the Cachucha and the beach of San Pedro River.
Regarding the vegetation, in the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park we can appreciate an ecological succession of the marine ecosystems to the terrestrial ones. Among the different ecosystems we find the following types of vegetation going from marine to terrestrial.
The intertidal flats are full of very productive species that allow rapid plant growth. Here we find grasslands and algae such as the breza and the lechugueta.
For the marshes we find three subdivisions in low, medium and high marsh. In the first one, the espartina stands out and as the altitude increases the armajo is found, the predominant algae is the hawthorn. The armajo stands out in the middle marsh. And in the high marsh also highlights the armajo and other species such as salty, martavacas or saladillo.
In the salinas we can find ruderal species and other types of saline soils in their terminal phase.
The ecotone marsh-dunes means the change from marine to terrestrial ecosystem. In this type of ecosystem we find species such as rostraria, cebadilla, foxtail and star; in the most dispersed area of scrub we find starry hyacinth, onion squash and chives; in the islets the broom and the bufalaga are frequent; and, lastly, in the areas close to the roads there are ruderal species such as taraje.
On the beaches and dune systems we find grasses at the beginning. As we go deeper into the dunes, we find the sea thistle and the sea horn, and in the secondary dunes, chamomile, asso and retama.
It is the first area of Spain in reproduction of shorebirds and has been classified as Wetland of International Importance and Special Protection Area for Birds. This range is achieved when the concentration of birds reaches 1% of its world endowment and the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park brings together more than 30,000 specimens of the eastern Atlantic wintering.
Its marine character is represented by those areas of the Bay of Cádiz that remain permanently occupied by the waters. As a consequence of the constant fluvial discharges, they appear turbid but depositary of a high biological productivity. In its bottoms molluscs abound like the small cañadillas or the marine conch and an endless number of fish.
The muddy plains, known as the Green Island, add another well-differentiated habitat where tidal flows subject their physiognomy to constant periods of immersion and emersion throughout the day.
The spouts, whose flow fluctuates to the tides, cross both the marshes and the areas transformed into salinas and into them the mollusks, crustaceans, fish and invertebrates. The marshes appear scattered in the form of narrow strips framed between the reeds and the salinas or between these and the muddy plains. The most splendid and virgin are the Marshes of the Trocadero Island, the Marshes of Sancti Petri and the Marshes of Los Bruños.
Many of the old salinas of Cádiz fell into disuse and have been recycled as industrial fish hatcheries. The San Juan Bautista saline farm and the alevines fattening plant in El Palmar saline give a good account of this healthy aquaculture activity in the area.
The information centers dot the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park, welcoming the visitor in strategic points of each of the municipalities involved: Las Bruñas in El Puerto de Santa María, the San Pedro River, the Cortadura spout in Puerto Real, El Carmen de Bartivás saline in Chiclana de la Frontera, and the Arillo River in Cádiz and San Fernando. This last city also has a botanical garden of one hectare and a half that allows the pedagogical approach to native flora and species from America. As a complementary activity, indigenous cultivation, gardening and acclimatization techniques are presented.
Sailing through this paradise is the best way to taste it. The direction of the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park and the Aula del Mar of the Diputación de Cádiz have designed a guided tour of the Marshes of Taruña on board of lightweight sports sailboats.
Another interesting route, although this time on foot, goes through the stretch between the beginning of the beach of Camposoto and the San Nicolás saline, in San Fernando.
Ecotourism lovers are lucky with the varied offer of activities that revolve around the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park. Chiclana de la Frontera and Puerto Real have a large network of canals and rural roads very suitable for cycling. The capital of Cádiz is aware of its ecological treasures and offers the foreigner the possibility of practicing all kinds of water sports, initiation to sailing and diving, and also horse riding routes, day and night through beautiful places and beaches, lectures and re-education courses with native species.
The old town centers of all the cities that surround the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park are well worth a visit, and discover its exquisite table with its fresh fish and wonderful broths.