Lisbon airport project threatens internationally important estuary


The Portuguese government has approved construction of an airport in one of Europe's most important wetlands: the Tagus Estuary.

The decision has caused uproar, with the Portuguese government accused by conservationists of ignoring serious questions regarding safety, public health and the environment. SPEA (BirdLife's partner in Portugal) and other Portuguese NGOs have declared they will take the matter to court and bring it to the European Commission, as the project is unlawful and goes against European directives and international treaties.

The Tegus Estuary, which supports some 60,000 Black-tailed Godwits in winter, is at risk from the new airport (Jane Rowe).

The proposed new airport is part of the Portuguese government's plan to expand Lisbon Airport. It would be located in Montijo, across the river from Portugal's capital city. The location is right at the mouth of the Tagus, in what is currently a haven for migratory wetland birds, which congregate there by the thousands every winter.

In pushing the project forward, the Portuguese government is disregarding the impact of placing an airport in this hot-spot for birds: not just the impact on nature, but on passenger safety. The (mandatory) environmental impact assessment study, which should inform the decision, did not take into account the 60,000 Black-tailed Godwits that gather in the estuary every winter, or Glossy Ibis, whose numbers have been growing year after year (flocks of more than 50,000 were observed this year).

All these birds, as well as considerable numbers of larger birds such as Greater Flamingos, would sit in the new airport's flight path, making bird strikes almost inevitable.

"The government proposes a big budget for compensation measures, but the fact is that you can’t pay birds to move somewhere else. They gather here because this spot has the best conditions, and that’s not going to change," said Domingos Leitão, SPEA's Executive Director.

To add insult to injury, many of the measures proposed by the government to mitigate or compensate for the airport's environmental impact are actually things Portugal is already obliged to do to protect the species and habitats of this reserve, which is classified as a Natura 2000 site because it is one of the most important wetlands in Europe.