In 1906 Atanasovsko Lake, located near the city of Burgas in Bulgaria, was no more than a malaria-infested muddy pond. But, over time, it transformed into an extensive salt-pan bringing much needed jobs and income to the local community. Salt used to be a very precious commodity and heavily sought after in international trading circles.
Thanks to the extensive production of salt, the lake also developed into a flourishing coastal wetland. It is now one of the most important Natura 2000 sites in the EU Black Sea Region, harbouring over half of all European birds and hosting very rare coastal lagoons, a priority habitat under the Habitats Directive.
The special combination of cultural and natural, material and spiritual values of Atanasovsko Lake make it a perfect educational setting in which one can learn about history, geography, economy and ecology.
With this in mind, the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, in partnership with Black Sea Salinas LTD and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, carried out a major LIFE project from 2012 to 2017 to communicate the importance and vulnerability of the Atanasovsko Lake Salt-works to the public at large. This symbiosis of Man and Lake is central to the communication message, hence the project motto: the Salt of Life.
The project team carried out a wide range of information initiatives aimed at telling the story of “the Lake, Salt, Birds and People”. An innovative travelling exhibition "symBiotic" was hosted in 13 Bulgarian cities and visited by over 25,000 people. An annual ‘Salt of Life’ Festival was launched along with numerous other events (biodiversity carnival, Atanasovsko Reserve Birthday, school visits, half-marathon, etc.). The Festival, which has since become an important regional event with an amazing atmosphere and many supporters, offers visitors an opportunity to experience the life of salt workers and hitch a ride on the Salt Train.
In addition, a special bike route “On the trail of the Salt” and two walking trails with birdwatching towers were developed. Information boards were placed on 100 bus stops in Burgas, and billboards about the lake were hung in the main square in Burgas. Videos presenting the lake were featured in popular TV cooking shows and over 90,000 small packets of salt were distributed to promote the salt that is sustainably produced from Atanasovsko Lake.
The communication activities have been hailed a great success – more than 335,000 people have explored the ‘Trail of the Salt’ so far and the media campaign has resulted in over 1,750 publications in national and regional media. The "Salt of Life" festival has become an annual event in Bulgaria and the lake is now a major tourist attraction.