HISTORY OF CONSERVATION
The Okanj area has not had the status of a protected area until fairly recently. In 2010, the Decree on the Ecological Networks determined Okanj as the center of the ecological network called “Okanj and Rusanda”.
Initiating the procedure of placing the Okanj area under protection was launched by the Society for Environmental Protection “Okanj” from Elemir and the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia.
At the same time, the Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province included the area of Okanj and the surrounding moorlands and wetland habitats in the Medium-Term Work Program for the period 2006-2010, in order to establish protection. Valorization of natural assets was performed during 2006, 2007 and 2008. The protection study was completed in 2008 and submitted to the Ministry in charge. With the adoption of the Law on Nature Protection, the study of protection had to be harmonized with the provisions of the Law from 2009, ie with the changes made in 2010.
EXPLANATORY STATEMENT OF THE PROPOSAL FOR INITIATING PROTECTION
Okanj pond, along with Slano Kopovo and Rusanda lakes, is one of the three most representative and most attractive salt lakes preserved in the paleomeanders of the Tisza river in central Banat. Its water and wetland habitats and salt marshes of different salinity represent a type of habitat of the primary protection in the Pannonian plant geographic region. Having understood the simmilarities in terms of plant cover and fauna between Okanj pond and the aforementioned lakes, the nature lovers from Elemir decided to try and protect Okanj, which is located just outside their village. Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia from the City of Novi Sad supported the initiative immediately. With the strengthening of cross-border cooperation, especially after 2000, nature conservation engineers and environmentalists from all over the Europe inquired about Okanj pond.
The importance of the Okanj area is immesurable. It is one of the rare preserved Pannonian types of landscapes whose saline soil, meadow, steppe, wetland and aquatic ecosystems are important for preserving the overall biological diversity of the Banat region, Vojvodina, Serbia and Europe. In this area, specific ecosystems on saline soil have been preserved, which only occur on wet sands, dried ponds and depressions of low salinity. Within the meadow – steppe vegetation of continental salt marshes, there are wet meadows of high salinity and meadow – steppe vegetation of poorly saline lands. The specificity of the area is hightened by the preserved wetland vegetation of saline habitats.
The copiousness of the plant life is accompanied by the diversity of the animal life specific to the Pannonian lowlands. These habitat types have been identified as a priority in the Republic of Serbia (Ordinance on criteria for classification of habitat types as vulnerable, endangered and threatened). Okanj area with Rusanda has a verified international status significant for birds (IBA) and plants (IPA). The area is considered for nomination for inclusion in the Ramsar List. Its distinct value consists of sensitive ecosystems with a large number of species and individuals that gather here during migration season, as well as nesting of different species of heron and many other rare species. These habitats have been proposed to enter the NATURA 2000 ecological network. NATURA 2000 is an EU nature protection programme aimed at preserving or restoring the favorable status of more than a thousand endangered, rare and ecologically valuable species, as well as about 230 natural and semi-natural habitats by establishing ecological networks of the most important areas of preserved nature.
Okanj pond and its depression are connected with the river Tisza. The southern arm of the pond is connected with the river through a system of interconnected shallower depression of Okanjica, and Žuglja and Crvenka ponds. In addition to these depressions, there are more smaller ponds and wet meadows intersected by a canal, which is a part of melioration network. All depressions and watercourses provide an ecological corridor towards the Tisza, and through it, towards a pan-European ecological network (Bennett & Wit, 2001).
The marshy shores and the great natural vegetation coverage towards the Tisza provide a functional connection of the protected area not only in hydrological, but also in ecological terms. The wider area of Okanj pond has been singled out as the central area of the national ecological network called Okanj and Rusanda, labeled area nr. 9. In order to preserve the priority habitats of the greater Pannonian plant-geographical region, it was deemed necessary to put the Okanj pond area under protection as the Special Nature Reserve “Okanj Bara”.
PROMOTION OF CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL HERITAGE AND NATURAL ASSETS ON LOCAL LEVEL ELEMIR - TISZA - OKANJ
Society for Nature Preservation Okanj from Elemir has actively been working on solving problems concerning nature preservation on local level for more than ten years. One of the society’s main activities is revitalisation and preservation of the Okanj wetlands near the village of Elemir, which is one of the few saltwater marshes remaining in Pannonian Basin and a relic of the Pannonian Sea.
A vast number of low depressions, marshes, meadows, moorlands, pastures, as well as Okanj pond itself (which stretches over the area of 220 ha), make this particular area one of the most preserved lowland areas in Vojvodina. Its distinct values are well-preserved ecosystems, which are home to a large number of species. Experts have noted no less than 217 bird species which gather in the wetlands during the migration season or nest there, some of the most notable species being herons, mallards, greylag geese and woodcocks. Furthermore, 184 plant species have been registered. This was the reason to propose conservation of the Okanj pond and the moorlands surrounding villages Taraš and Kumane as Special Nature Reserve “Okanj Bara”, which should occupy the area of 5900 ha. The procedure of registering the Nature Reserve has yet to take place and is expected in the following months. Because of its extraordinary international importance in conserving bird species (IBA) and vegetation (IPA), the area is proposed to be nominated for including on the List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Society for Nature Preservation Okanj Elemir has strived to promote these values and importance of Okanj pond to the local people and the popularion of the wider area, and to introduce the younger generations to it. Through lectures, exibitions, informative events, presentations of extensive ammounts of materials (including photographs, maps, research papers and expert opinions), the values of Okanj pond will be presented to the youth in order to spark an interest and include as many people as possible, not only in preserving the nature, but in walking tours, active engangement, outdoor learning and healthy lifestyle as well. The goal is to make the young recognise the wetlands as something unique that belongs to them. The youth’s attention shall also be drawn to the factors that affect the wetlands negatively, such as loss of water due to the quantitative and qualitative changes in groundwater supply and climate changes, hunting, disturbances of birds, water, soil and air pollution due to the strong concentration of industrial activities closeby. Due to the proximity of human settlements, there are unauthorised landfills (and the problem of their removal), as well as wastewater flows, since wastewater from the households and farms ocassionaly and uncontrollably finds its way to the area.
Particular focus of this project is going to be the prospects of Okanj pond of getting the title of Special Nature Reserve. Distinct possibilities are being offered to the Society for Nature Preservation Okanj, the local people and particularly to the youth, to engage in nature preservation and potentially get a stable workplace. However, many new challenges and obligations are emerging, and people are being challenged to act more conscienciously, comprehensively and responsibly towards the wetlands and to contribute to and justify the importance and the role given to this area.
The public will be informed about the project realisation and other activities through press releases, informative pamphlets, through media and other means of information, and in the end the results and the effect of the engagements in this programme will be evaluated.