An inch from water, the marvels of Santa Giusta and Pauli Maiore

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With two strokes of the oar “su ciu” detaches from the muddy bottom and directs the bow towards the channel that connects the pond of Santa Giusta to that of Pauli Maiore. The reeds surround the ruins of the Roman bridge and from the shore they accompany the slow muttering of the engine. Sometimes the bed narrows and the leaves touch the faces of the passengers seated next to the oarlocks. The sweltering day resists in the amber-colored sky. For a few moments it is the darkness between the pillars of a bridge, then is the evening again. The perspective is forced to horizontality. We proceed tiny in a flat world. On the surface of the water, small circles light up and vanish. They are carps and mullets sharing the brackish flow. Behind a loop a stern appears, then another. They are the other three boats of "An inch from the water", the free excursions on board with the fishermen of Santa Giusta, promoted by Alea Ricerca & Ambiente and FLAG Pescando in the week preceding the regatta de Is Fassonis, the ancient fishing boats of the area.

Franco Mura leads up the ciu through the shallows. The ever changing seabed is a map known only to him and the colleagues of the cooperative, Marco Pili, Sandro Pani and Marcello Muroni, who advance in single file, ore stretch out as a comb. Maurizio Porcu of Alea, the guide, points the binoculars on the left bank and draws the attention of the six visitors. The grebe breaks its stasis and pedaling on the water takes off. The royal seagulls whirl above. "A mallard!" exclaims Ludovica anticipating the binoculars, at the third exit on her grandfather's boat. Indeed an expert by now. Favorite species of the pond? "The piranhas". "But once the pond was visited by a dolphin. He was so at ease that the fishermen had to intervene to return it to the sea", says Maurizio. In the absorbed silence, the semicircle of Pauli Maiori opens up. Beyond the line of reeds spread the fields on the hills, the rows of haystacks. The chirping of the fan-tailed warbler resounds, the red heron moves the reeds, whirling the wings in the air. After nesting, in autumn, it will abandon the pond to return with the newborns in the sub-Saharan regions.

The four boats converge on the bank, moor nearby, thrusting the bow between the reeds, so that Porcu's speech can be heard by all twenty passengers. Pauli Maiore is one of the very few ponds in Sardinia to maintain a very low degree of salinity. This allows the growth of the phytocannet, which cover most of the 200 hectares in total. A perfect ecosystem for many species, a Ramsar and Community Interest Site (SIC). The water never exceeds the meter and a half of depth, enough however to allow the fishermen of S. Giusta to collect carps, eels, tenches, perches and mullets. "These are days of high tide - Pili intervenes from his ciu- and a lot of salt water comes in from the sea. Have you seen the circles on the water? It was the carp, which goes up the current looking for fresh water". The main tributary is the Rio Merd'e Cani, which collects the rainwater of Mount Arci. The river was fundamental for the formation of the coastal pond, which occurred in the last ice age, when the sea level dropped even by 160 meters and all the rivers tried to reduce the difference between sea level and their course. With the advent of the interglacial era, the sea rose up invading the valleys created by the rivers. The process was identical for the pond of S. Giusta, but fed instead by the course of the river Tirso. The obsidian of Mount Arci, dating back to the Neolithic period, passing through these shores reached as far as Corsica, and from there to Liguria and France.

On the way back to indulge in flight are the water hens and the marsh harrier, with its small, watchful circumferences drawn in the dusk’s colours. The bertivello and its net wings supported by a sequence of canes seem an artistic installation in the immobility of water. "Eels, crabs and shrimp enter the trap without being able to escape" explains Mura, 59, for 41 years a fisherman. “An inch from water was born eight years ago to show to locals and tourists the beauty of wetlands, visited not by land but from the perspective of local fishermen. A unique experience if you think that su ciu is used 365 days a year for work, and only in the week before the regatta de is Fassonis is made available to those who want to appreciate the wonders of the area. Knowledge is a fundamental step if we want to protect the environment", Porcu explains when the Roman bridge can be glimpsed again, announced by the growing presence of the obione and the salicornia. The sea is getting closer.