Saaremaa

Saaremaa (2672 square km) is the fourth largest island in the Baltic Sea after Sjaellandi, Gotland and Fyn. It is a low island with mostly flat relief. The western part of it differs from the rest of the island. Here the West-Saaremaa and Sõrve Uplands and the northern coast with its high escarpments are located. West-Saaremaa Upland is an approximately 50 km long and 25 km wide marginal formation of continental ice. Its maximum height reaches up to 54 m above sea level. Numerous coastal formations of water bodies (beach ridges, dunes and abrasion platforms), previously located in the same area as the current Baltic Sea, can be seen on the slopes of the Upland. Here coniferous forests are dominant.

Approximately 10 ancient earthen strongholds make the generally flat relief of Saaremaa more colourful. The diameter of Valjala, Kaarma and Kahutsi earthen strongholds is between 110 m and 150 m and the height of these earthworks which have been preserved up to the present day is 5–10 m.

The majority of the approximately 80 lakes of Saaremaa were formed as a result of surface uplift that has separated these water areas from the sea. A number of coastal lakes still have a connection to the sea. Most of these lakes (approximately 20) are located on Tagamõisa Peninsula in the northwestern part of the island, and on the southeastern and southern coast. Often the names of such lakes include "bay", "sea" or "bight". The largest coastal lake is a twin-lake, Mullutu-Suurlaht (14.4 square km), near Kuressaare. These lakes are halotrophic. Some coastal lakes dry out during the summer. Lake Karu (3.3 sqaure km), located in the forests of the West-Saaremaa Upland, with its sinuous coastline and numerous small islands, is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in Saaremaa.

Vilsandi National Park
The first protected area in the Baltic countries, Vilsandi National Park, is located near the western coast of Saaremaa. The Vaika islands near Vilsandi, rich in bird species, were designated as a protected area already at the beginning of the 20th century. The territory of the protected area has increased over the years and in 1993 a national park was established here. In 1997, Vilsandi National Park was designated as a wetland of international importance. The National Park encompasses Vilsandi Island, the western coast of Saaremaa and approximately 160 small islands with total area of 182 square km (of which the sea area forms 105 square km). In addition to its original objective, i.e. protection of bird species, the current task of the National Park is also to preserve coastal and sea landscapes and species-rich vegetation of West Estonia. More than 250 bird species have been registered in the National Park, of which 112 species breed. Eiders are the most numerous (more than 4000 pairs). During the migration period, flocks consisting of thousands of birds (barnacle geese, eiders and other waterfowl) use the area as a stopping rest site.

Viidumäe Nature Reserve
Viidumäe Nature Reserve (18.7 square km), located in the southwestern part of West-Saaremaa Upland, was established in 1957 in order to protect rare plant species and plant communities. A scarp of the Ancylus Lake, a stage in the evolution of the Baltic Sea, the maximum height of which is 18 m and where the slope grade in some places is 25°–30° runs along the territory of the Nature Reserve. At the foot of the scarp, spring fens occur. Due to the diverse natural conditions, the Nature Reserve is extremely rich in plant species. Approximately 700 species of vascular plants can be found here, and of these 58 are designated as protected species, including Saaremaa yellow rattle, a species growing only in the territory of Saaremaa. The occurrence of pine groves with oak underwood is not common in such climate conditions and is, therefore, rare in Estonia.

Details about this article