In line with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and in accordance to the provisions of Article (8) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Bahrain has adopted a series of measures to conserve various components of its biodiversity. Of these, is the establishment of protected areas to promote in-situ conservation of biodiversity. Currently there are a total of 6 key designated protected areas in Bahrain (5 Marine and 1 Terrestrial) namely:
Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve
Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve is the only terrestrial protected area in Bahrain. It is situated adjacent to the central western coastline of the main island and occupies a total area of about 8km2 that consists of a botanical and zoological park in addition to a fenced reserve. The park is built to modern standards allowing most animals to live in open semi-natural habitats with minimal enclosure. The protected area harbours representatives of indigenous plants and animals in addition to exotic faunal species from Africa and west and south Asia. The park also offers a modern facility supporting the falconry sport and the associated heritage in Bahrain (Bahrain’s First National Report to the CBD, 2006).
Al Areen also runs a number of captive breeding programs, which has resulted in the re-introduction of species such as the Arabian sand gazelle also known as the Reem Gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica) and the Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) into open protected areas such as Hawar Islands. Moreover, Al Areen also runs a captive breeding program for the critically endangered Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr), which is native to the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve aims to promote scientific research, ecotourism, public awareness in addition to conservation of biodiversity in Bahrain.
Tubli Bay Protected Area
Declared as a protected area in 1995 and designated as a RAMSAR site in 1997, Tubli Bay is located in the north-east of Bahrain, south of the capital city Manama. It is an important wetland area that combines a variety of marine biotopes such as mangrove swamps, extensive mudflats and rocky shores. Tubli Bay is home to the last standing natural aggregation of mangroves in a nature reserve called Ras Sanad Mangroves which was declared in 1988 and hosts the sole mangrove species commonly known as the white mangrove (Avicennia marina).
Combined with Tubli Bay’s productive mudflats, the area serves as an important feeding and breeding ground for migratory and resident birds. Also, the bay was once known to be a nursery ground of exceptional significance for commercial shrimps and harbours a variety of intertidal and subtidal marine biota.
Furthermore, the area is utilised by thousands of waterbirds due to the abundant food resources available in Tubli Bay hosting over 45 species of birds – mainly herons, shorebirds, gulls and terns – who regularly visit the bay during the migration periods and in winter .
Peak counts have included 100 little egrets (Egretta garzetta), 250 Grey herons (Ardea cinerea), 300 Common ringed plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), 500 Kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), 2,000 Lesser sand plovers (Charadrius mongolus), 500 Grey plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), 250 Ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), 1,000 Little stints (Calidris minuta), 800 Broad-billed sandpipers (Limicola falcinellus), 150 Pallus’ gulls (Larus ichthyaetus), 2,000 Black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) and 3,000 Slender billed gulls (Larus genei). Moreover, the common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) also known as the swamp chicken and black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) are known to breed in the mangroves (Bahrain’s First National Report to the CBD, 2006).
The site’s importance in terms of natural heritage for the people of Bahrain can be traced back to the Tylos era where records explained that historically mangroves covered most of the coastal areas of the island .
Unfortunately, the area has not been well managed nor has it witnessed any on-ground protection. Due to the unsustainable reclamation operations it has witnessed in the past 10-20 years, the total area of the bay has declined from approximately 25km2 in the 1960s to 13km2 in 2006 and current claims suggest that the bay’s size today amounts to 9km2. Most of the reclaimed land has been allocated to the construction of causeways and highways and the erection of houses (Bahrain’s First National Report to the CBD, 2006).
In 2006, a royal decree was issued to ban reclamation works in Tubli Bay in an attempt to promote the protection of the coastline from coastal development. However, the ban was lifted following the issuance of the Ministerial Decree No. (70) of 2011, thus, subjecting the bay to further adverse anthropogenic impacts combining reclamation, sewage outfalls, silt discharges from sand-washing plants, low tidal flow velocities and reduced flushing of the bay caused by the Sitra Causeway and Ma’ameer Channel all of which contribute to the heightened ecosystem collapse and rapidly shrinking of the bay size. Once known to be a site of significant and unique ecological characteristics, today stands to be the biggest environmental and ecological disasters witnessed in Bahrain and the Gulf region.
Hawar Islands are an archipelago consisting of 36 islands located to the South-East of Bahrain’s main island and is currently the largest protected area in Bahrain with land covering roughly a total of 51.4km2 (Bahrain’s Fourth National Report, 2011). Amongst all the national protected areas, Hawar Islands enjoy the highest level of ecosystem integrity with extensive desert, mudflats and seagrass beds serving as valuable feeding and breeding grounds for a wide range of terrestrial and marine species.
Declared as a protected area in 1996 and designated as a RAMSAR site in 1997, Hawar Islands are of significant international and regional importance due to many unique ecological arrays. Most notably are the dugong herds inhabiting the shallow waters around these islands thereby hosting the second largest population of dugong in the world after Australia.
Furthermore, the islands are recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International as they host the largest breeding colony of the Socotra cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) whilst the breeding areas of the western reef heron (Egretta gularis) are said to be the most numerous in the Middle East. Moreover, the islands are important nesting areas for the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and the sooty falcon (Falco concolor) species.
The diversity and abundance in benthic invertebrates and fish assemblages provide valuable food sources for the thousands of birds wintering and/or breeding annually on these offshore islands. Hawar Islands have now become home to small populations of sand gazelles and the Arabian Oryx who have been re-introduced into the wild following the successful captive breeding programs undertaken by Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve.
It is important to note that all of the islands that make up Hawar Islands and their associated territorial waters are under full protection with both hunting and fishing prohibited with some exceptions whereby fishing using traditional methods is permitted to encourage the protection of these sustainable methods. Apart from a small-constrained resort area, public access to the majority of Hawar Islands is restricted and continuously monitored by the Coast Guards. As a result of these strict restrictions, Hawar Islands today remains largely in pristine condition.
Mashtan Island is a small off-shore island (approximately 2.5km2) that is reported to be dominated by sandy beaches and is surrounded by extensive seagrass beds and reefs. It is said to harbour a number of rare species of crustaceans such as the ghost crab (Ocypode saratan) (Bahrain’s Fourth National Report, 2011). The surrounding seagrass beds are known to be important forging area for dugongs and sea turtles in addition to being a protective nursery grounds for shrimps and finned fish. The island is well known to be an Important Bird Area and hence was declared as a Protected Area by Ministerial Order (1) of 2002. Currently there is no evidence or information in regards to on ground management and protection of the area. Lastly, since the island is located in the South-Eastern part of Bahrain, closer to Hawar Islands, it could form an edge to the Mashtan, Jabbarri, Tighaylib, to Hawar triangle, which is considered to be a high biodiversity area (Bahrain’s First National Report to the CBD, 2006).
Dohat Arad is a sheltered bay that is dominated by mudflat habitats, which serve as an important ecological, resting and feeding area for many resident and migratory shore birds in addition to being a protected nursery for many types of marine organisms such as crustaceans and juvenile fish. The bay was declared as a Marine Protected Area under Ministerial Order (4) of 2003.
The Kingdom of Bahrain was awarded its second UNESCO World Heritage Site under the title “Pearling, testimony of an island economy” which was inscribed on the 30th of June 2012. In 2017, the Supreme Council of Environment issued Resolution No. (2) of 2017 declaring the Hayrat the newest marine protected area in the Kingdom. The site is said to be the last remaining complete example of cultural tradition and wealth generated by pearling when the trade dominated the Gulf economy. Hence, highlighting an outstanding example of traditional utilisation of the sea’s resources and human interaction with the environment, which shaped both the economy and cultural identity of the island’s society (UNESCO, 2014). Part of the site includes three offshore oyster beds namely: Najwat and Hayr Bul Thamah, Hayr Shtayyah and Hayr Bu Am’amah,
The site consists of three main oyster beds collectively known as “Hayrat” with a single oyster bed referred to as “Hayr”, a reef and a protective buffer zone. The oyster bed sites namely Hayr Shtayyah, Hayr Bu Am’amah and Hayr Bul Thamah are located approximately 30km, 57km and 58km respectively from the mainland. Moreover, the historically famous Hayr Shtayyah, which is well known for being a pearl oyster diving hot spot, is said to be the largest oyster bed in the Arabian Gulf and covers an area of 24,569.6 hectares (UNESCO, 2014).
Reef Bul Thamah, is located approximately 90km away from the mainland adjacent to ‘Hayr Bul Thamah’. It was originally declared a protected area under Ministerial Decree No. (9) of 2007 although this was superceeded by Ministerial Decree No. (2) of 2017 which placed the Reef within the same MPA as the northern Hayrat. The reef is said to be in good condition due to its remote location and distance from the mainland. It covers an area of 7.8km2 and harbours the highest diversity of corals, algae and reef fish in addition to many other species in comparison to other reef sites. Unsurprisingly, it is considered to be the best diving spot for seeing corals and reef fish by recreational divers.
- Bahrain’s First National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2006) Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife. General Directorate for Environment and Wildlife Protection, Kingdom of Bahrain.
- Bahrain’s Fourth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2011) Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife. General Directorate for Environment and Wildlife Protection, Kingdom of Bahrain.
- UNESCO (2014) Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy. World Heritage List. Last accessed: 26 December 2014 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1364