grey heron bird moroccoAs a habitat for more than 100 species of birds, Merja Zerga Nature Preserve in Morocco is one of the most important wetland sites in North Africa. The large tidal lagoon is fed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Oued Drader, a freshwater stream. The area has been designated as a biological preserve and has served as host site for the Ramsar Convention, an organization dedicated to the conservation of wetlands worldwide.

The area surrounding Merja Zerga was populated during Phoenician times and during the Roman period. During the Islamic period, a religious leader named Moulay Bousalham established a base there. Now, the small village that is nearest the preserve is named after this Muslim holy man. It’s a quiet, agricultural area whose main crops include strawberries and watermelons.

The best time to visit Merja Zerga is during autumn and winter, when migratory birds arrive from Europe. Species that populate the preserve include grey heron, white stork, greater flamingo and African marsh owl. You may also be able to see marbled teal, red-knobbed coot, and the critically endangered slender-billed curlew.

To get to Merja Zerga, your best bet is to use Kenitra or Rabat as your base. By train, it takes 25 to 45 minutes to reach Kenitra from Rabat (depending on which train you take), and three hours from Tangier. By bus, it’s about an hour from Rabat. From Tangier, there aren’t many direct buses so you’re better off taking the train. Once you arrive in Kenitra, find a grand taxi station and arrange transport for a day trip. You may be able to find some modest accommodation options in Moulay Bousalham, but tourist services are not very developed in the village so it’s best to arrange return transport before nightfall.

Written by Heather Carreiro.

Photo by blinkingidiot.