Conservation in Bahrain
Action taken to protect and preserve the natural world, usually from pollution, overexploitation, and other harmful features of human activity. In attempts to save particular species or habitats, a distinction is often made between preservation, that is maintaining the pristine state of nature exactly as it was or might have been, and conservation, the management of natural resources in such a way as to integrate the requirements of the local human population with those of the animals, plants, or the habitat being conserved. (Hutchinson, 1994)
● Protected Areas
There are 3 areas in Bahrain (so far) designated as Protected Areas; Mangroves at Ras Sanad (Tubli Bay), Hawar Islands and Al-Areen Wildlife Park.
1) Mangroves at Ras Sanad (Tubli Bay)
Tubli Bay is an inshore coastal area situated in the north-east of Bahrain. It is characterised by its unique ecology as it provides a habitat for important coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrass. It is the only place in Bahrain with an ecological interaction between mangroves, seagrass and corals. These three systems are important for productivity of coastal fisheries that society depends on.
Tubli Bay is an inshore coastal area situated in the north-east of Bahrain. Manama, the capital city, lies north of the Bay. 50,777 (Statistical Abstracts 1994 NB: the subsequent population figures from this reference, unless otherwise stated) people live in the city and the population is increasing, as Manama is the commercial hub of Bahrain and many people prefer to live within easy reach of the centre. This can be clearly seen in the area surrounding Tubli Bay where a large area of coast is being infilled for urban development each year.
For the past forty or so years, however, the Bay has been under threat from human activity. Infilling the coast for development has caused the size of the Bay to decrease from 23.5 square km in 1956 to 16.1 square km in 1996 (Environmental Affairs, 1996). This on-going activity is causing even more degradation / destruction to the Bay’s vulnerable ecology. Tubli Water Pollution Control Centre discharges 160,000 cubic metres (Personal Communication, 1996) into the Bay every day. Sandwashing plants continue to discharge silt into the Bay daily, and the dumping of rubble and litter within its surroundings still remain a point of concern. Fishing activities are carried out in the Bay, even though it represents a nursery ground for commercially important species.
Tubli Bay is characterised by its unique ecology. It is one of the only sheltered, low-energy areas in Bahrain and rich ecologically. It provides an important coastal habitat. The main plant species that Tubli Bay is mostly recognised for are “the mangrove trees”. The Bay (and closely surrounding areas) is the only place in Bahrain where these ecologically important species still survive. Only one type of mangrove species exists and that is known as the Black Mangrove; Avicennia marina.
The Mangrove Stand, protected by the Environmental Affairs of Bahrain, is situated at Ras Sanad in the south-western part of the Bay. This particular mangrove stand, estimated to be 430,000 square metres in area, was designated as a nature reserve in 1988. Originally, mangroves were also to be found in many other areas of the Island. The area is also RAMSAR listed internationally (Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat).
The protected mangrove reserve at Ras Sanad has a tree density of 100%. The highest mangrove tree was approximately 3.5m tall. The average tree height recorded was approximately 2.3m tall (along the creek) (Halel, 1996). Measurements taken during a study survey in Summer 1996
Another important habitat dominating the Bay is the “seagrass ecosystem”. The most common seagrass species in Tubli Bay is Halodule uninervis. This species of seagrass is a pioneer species and is tolerant of a wide range of environmental factors (e.g. temperature extremes). The mudflats are also very important components of Tubli Bay where they provide a habitat for many species that constitute a food source (e.g. snails and worms) for a large number of migrating birds in the area.
Traditionally, it was known by many, especially fishermen, for substantial shrimp quantities caught during the summer (Abdulqader, 1994). Two studies that were carried out, An Ecological Study of some Coasts in Bahrain in 1983 and A Study of Bahrain Marine Environment in 1989, showed how important the Bay is for coastal fisheries (Khamdan & Shahabi 1993). It was a popular area, due to its beauty and uniqueness, for the weekend relaxation and enjoyment of people of Bahrain, who would swim in its then clear waters.
Highlighting why protection of the mangrove stand alone is not as efficient as protecting Tubli Bay as a whole
The whole of Tubli Bay is important. Its importance lies in its ecology and the interaction of its many elements. The seagrass ecosystem in the Bay and the mangroves at Ras Sanad are closely linked by interactive processes. They have biological and physical unctions which co-occur, these being intimately connected in successional sequences.
The seagrass bed acts as a hydrodynamic barrier that creates a low-energy zone favourable to mangroves. It also traps and stabalises sediments, thus helping to prevent blocking of mangrove air roots. Mangroves, for their part, bind sediments that could smother seagrass. Mangroves and seagrass ecosystems produce nutrients which facilitate the optimum development of each system. This export of nutrients leads to a turnover of biomass and efficient carbon cycling, benefiting all elements of the Bay’s ecosystem. Both ecosystems are connected through the movement of evifauna which feed on seagrass beds and possibly carry nutrients back to the system by defecating in the mangroves. Both are sources of primary productivity and detritus production.
Seagrass provides substantial support grounds for marine organisms which use them, and the mangroves, during several stages in their lives, such as for resting, feeding or reproduction.
The mudflats provide a habitat for bivalves and worms, and therefore a feeding ground for shrimp, crab, overwintering waders and shorebirds as well as a substrate for nitrogen-fixing blue-green algae and a storage unit for important dissolved substances.
These interactive processes play a critical, positive role in improving and maintaining the quality of the marine environment.
From the above, it is clear that the Bay should be treated as an ecological whole, each part being equally important for the efficient functioning of that whole. It is also important economically, because it is a nursery and feeding ground for commercial fisheries. These fisheries are socially important to the people of Bahrain, especially those who rely on them for their livelihood. Tubli Bay, however, has a value in itself regardless of its usefulness to people, as it provides a habitat and feeding ground for birds, fish, shrimp, crabs, reptiles and many other smaller organisms.
Protecting Tubli Bay from any further destruction is a necessity, for the reason that this area is very unique ecologically to Bahrain. The best management option to adopt would be the sustainable development of Tubli Bay. Sustainable development would integrate ecological sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. It aims for the best environmental, economic and social options. In this option, as the destructive activities on the Bay would be stopped and measures taken to reduce the effect of others, most of the adverse impacts on the By would be eliminated. Habitats would no longer be destroyed by infilling and accumulation of driftwood and rubbish in the mangrove pocket area would no longer be a problem.
Long-term ecological benefits could be gained by the adoption of this option. The interference to Tubli Bay would be minimal, photosynthesis and the dispersion of pollutants by the mangroves would be more efficient, and gradual recovery would take place. As a result, inshore and coastal fisheries can thrive.
(2) Hawar Islands
The Hawar Islands are located 25km southeast of the main island; Bahrain. The islands form an archipelago of 16 small, limestone desert islands and islets that are surrounded by shallow sea and extensive seagrass and algae beds. These islands are very important for breeding seabirds (such as the Socotra Cormorants – World’s largest colony, Ospreys and Sooty Falcons). Also present around the Hawar Islands are Dugongs and Sea Turtles.
Six of these islands have been designated as protected areas and access is very limited. Some islands are hilly with cliffs up to 20-30m high, whereas others are flat and sandy with gently sloping shores. The largest of these islands is Hawar which covers an area more than 4,100 ha (not restricted).
The six small islands that are protected have been designated their status by the then National Committee for Wildlife Protection (now called National Commission for Wildlife Protection – 2000). The reason for their conservation designation status was because of their importance for breeding seabirds. The islands have also been identified by BirdLife International as an important bird area. The Hawar Islands have been identified as one of two sites in Bahrain suitable for designation as a Ramsar Site.
The shallow waters around the islands support a rich fishery. They also offer potentially good opportunities for Eco-Tourism in the area mainly because of their beauty and pristine environment. Large breeding seabird colonies and populations of Arabian Oryx and the Rheem Gazelle attract many tourists.
Written By: Halal Abdulrahman