MATSALU NATIONAL PARK AND NATURE CENTRE
Location: N58° 42` 52.4", E23° 48` 57.2"
Matsalu National Park is about 500 sq. km large internationally important nature reserve situated in the western part of Estonia. The reserve was founded in 1957 mainly to protect nesting, moulting and migratory birds and preserve coastal and wooded meadows. It embraces the Matsalu bay, partly the Väinameri sea and the lower course of Kasari River. In 1939, the Matsalu bay with its curative mud was taken under protection. In 2004 the area got its current name and borders.
Why is Matsalu so special? At first, there are European largest natural floodplains, picturesque coves, juniper groves and wooded meadows, which are a home for unique species of plants. Together with the largest reed bed area in the Baltic Sea and coastal meadows, Matsalu is a real bird kingdom. The eastern Atlantic migration route runs along the western Estonian coast, which means that millions of migratory birds follow this route on their way from western Europe to breed in Arctic regions. This is a paradise for birdwatchers.
There are over 60 small islets in the nature park. Some of them are visible only when the sea level is low. They are very important nesting areas for birds. The largest islands in the area are Tauksi, Liia, Sõmeri, Kumari and Papilaid. Tauksi, the largest one, rose from the sea around 1,000 years ago. Today it is uninhabited, but more than 100 years ago, there was a pub and two farms on the island. The pubs have worked in Papilaid and Kumari as well, because they were necessary for people who commuted by ice road in winter. Also the pubs provided food and shelter in stormy weather. In general, the islets were used as meadows for sheep and hayfields. Hay and sheep were transported by boat. Nowadays, all the islets are closed to visitors.
The Kasari River, which is the 4th longest river in Estonia, flows through the national park. The river forms a delta in its mouth. In spring the area of 40 sq. km is overflooded. The river carries fertile mud to the soil. Floods can also occur in summer and autumn.
There are 275 species of birds, 49 species of fish and 47 species of mammals registered in the area of nature reserve. During migration time the Matsalu bay is a resting place for more than 20, 000 cranes and over 30,000 barnacle geese. It is an important nesting area for cormorants, different species of seagulls, eiders and mute swans. The sea and river is a good spawning area for burbot, pike, ide, pikeperch and roach. The floodplains are a habitat for elk, roe deer and wild boar. There hunt wolves and jackals. With the help of volunteers, 160,000 birds and 1,000 bats are ringed every year in Matsalu.
The Nature Centre is situated in Penijõe manor house, which was built in 18th century. The centre features a permanent exhibition introducing the national park and a classroom for educational activities in nature and wildlife.