4 July 2010
The offshore and inland area of the Gulf of Sallum has been officially declared a nature reserve. In statements issued last March, Minister of Environment Affairs Maged George said that the reserve met the requirements of a number of international and regional conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity along with the World Heritage Convention.
Spanning some 383 square kilometres, mostly in the waters of the Gulf of Sallum, the reserve is Egypt’s 28th natural protectorate, but its first to extend offshore into Mediterranean waters. Zaraniq on the North Sinai Mediterranean coast is, strictly speaking, the first on the Mediterranean, but it only covers the wetlands extending inland not the Mediterranean proper.
The reserve is situated on the western border of Egypt with Libya. “There will be immediate programmes to protect the biological diversity in the reserve and to encourage ecotourism. Declaring the area a nature reserve will work to confront a host of environmental problems such as soil degradation and coastal inundation, climate change and loss of biological diversity,” Mr George said.
According to the national plan to safeguard biodiversity in Egypt, the number of nature reserves will rise to 42 by 2017, constituting some 20 per cent of the area of Egypt.
Home of diversity
This year Egypt is celebrating Biodiversity as well as 25 years since the passage of the law No. 202 of 1983, which paved the way for the creation of nature protectorates. That same year Ras Mohamed Reserve in South Sinai was declared the first Egyptian nature reserve.
Since that time new parks have been declared in several regions. In 2005, Wadi al-Hitan—Whale Valley at Wadi Rayyan, Fayoum—was declared the first heritage global reserve.
Egypt lies at the northeast corner of Africa at the junction of four biogeographical regions: the Irano-Turanian, Mediterranean, Afrotropical and Saharo-Sindian—the great desert belt that runs from Morocco on the northwest corner of Africa to the high, cold deserts of central Asia. This unique position is enhanced by the circumstance that it is divided by the Nile, the longest river in the world. Egypt’s northern and eastern boundaries lie on the shores of two largely enclosed seas, the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea.
Most of Egypt is either arid or hyper arid; however, owing to its very varied eco-zones, the country is home to a diversity of terrestrial habitats and fauna and flora which, although low in species numbers and with few endemic species, is extremely varied in composition.
The large deserts in Egypt—the Western (681,000 sq. km); the Eastern (223,000 sq. km), and Sinai (61,000 sq.km)—have been declared nature reserves, including the White Desert, Siwa oasis, and the Gilf Kebir at the Egypt-Sudan-Lybia border on Egypt’s south westernmost point.
A 1,475-sq.-km area on the Red Sea enjoys a rich and diverse reef system that is among the best in the world. The reserves of Ras Mohamed, Nabaq, St Catherine’s, Taba and the northern islands of the Red Sea support diverse and in some cases unique ecosystems and a huge variety of fauna and flora.
The waters of the River Nile and its ponds and irrigation canals represent 8,047 sq. km of Egypt’s total area. The reserves in this region are Qaroun, Burullus, and Wadi Assiuti.
Recent studies conducted in the area located between Marsa Matrouh and Sallum (Environex, Egypt2008) have shown the great importance of its coastal and marine environment and the sensitivity of its habitats including sea grass, fisheries, and sponges; in addition to the presence of five marine and 11 terrestrial endangered species. Despite the fact that the Gulf of Sallum is one of the richest areas for marine biodiversity in terms of habitats and species, the study shows that, whereas it had previously been home to 89 indigenous species, it now hosts only 55. Declaring it a nature reserve is thus essential to protect the wildlife still surviving there.
The Environment Ministry has launched a thorough study of Sallum. The reserve is host to more than 160 migratory and local bird species, about 30 reptile and amphibian species and 10,000 to 12,000 marine species. Among the birds are bee-eaters, starlings and bustards. The creation of the park should encourage scientific research on biological diversity in Egypt.
Among the endangered species in the region are sea turtles, starfish and sea cucumbers. The region is heavily over-fished, and declaring it a reserve should preserve fish stocks and sea turtles, and should secure the supply of natural organic materials taken from sea creatures such as shellfish for medicinal purposes.
So far the 1,200-sq.-km Egyptian Mediterranean coast has very few reserves to protect the natural wealth of the Mediterranean, one of the most vital areas for biodiversity. There are 10,000 marine species in the Mediterranean, 8,500 of which are animal and more than 1,300 plant species. This represents about nine per cent of the total number of marine species worldwide, even though the Mediterranean represents only one per cent of the total sea area.
Unfortunately some of these species are endangered, such as the Monk Seal, which once was spread throughout the Mediterranean but can now be found only in Greece and Turkey.
Climate change is putting the Mediterranean in danger of degradation of coastal soils, coastal erosion, especially when coupled with an unbalanced use of marine resources—specifically fisheries.
To manage the Sallum reserve correctly it has been decided to let the region’s residents take part in the reserve’s administration, which in turn will increase their awareness of the importance of protecting their environment. This goal will be realised through the creation of real opportunities for the people of the region, prevention overfishing and protecting natural and cultural heritage.