Known to host the world’s hottest sea, the Arabian Gulf in recent years has become an attraction hub for scientists, economists, energy experts and researchers from various fields due to the region’s interesting and challenging nature (Riegl & Purkis, 2012). Despite the harsh environmental conditions, the region, which includes Bahrain, harbours a rich biodiversity bringing together ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and sabkhas whilst being home to numerous endemic species. Naturally, this unique island is considered to hold international and regional importance in terms of biodiversity with bonuses such as being host to the second largest population of dugongs following Australia and the largest breeding colony of the Socotra Cormorant in the world in addition to fostering many migratory species such as turtles, whale sharks and others.

Natural Heritage

Rabbit fish, locally known as “Safi” which is deeply embedded in the Bahraini culture and diet for centuries

Bahrain’s natural heritage is not only of rich historical value, but is also of high social, economic and ecological value. The island’s natural offerings, which includes date farming from the historical lush green palm grooves supported by the abundant freshwater springs have all contributed towards defining the island’s identity along with granting Bahrain its name today. Bahrain literally means “two seas” referring to the rare mix of freshwater and saltwater seas, which are rumored to give Bahraini pearls their significant and exceptional quality. Historically known to have journeyed through the eras of Dilmun and Tylos leading to Awal followed by Bahrain whilst embracing various titles including; the island of a million palm trees, the garden of Eden in addition to the island of paradise and pearls all of which were seen documented in the epic of Gligamesh, the land of immortality. 

It is probable that the Dilmun (Bahrain) period played a very important role because the Sumerian legends accord a distinguished place in their writings to what is called Dilmun and there is absolutely no doubt that by this term they meant a specific actual country and they have described it as the land of two gods known to the Sumerians, Enki and Ninhursag. They have made a mention of sweet water in their land, which was formed by the will of god Enki. In addition Enki is said to have laid down that Dilmun would be the “water-house” for all Sumerian lands. Enki is considered to be the Lord of the Earth, Ninhur-sagawi the source of intelligence and understanding and Enki the Lord of Fertility and from Fertility comes production and this latter is the secret of life (Ghosh, 1968).

Many of the island’s iconic symbols, such as the Tree of life, the Arabian reem gazelle and the Arabian oryx, were derived from the natural landscape all of which have influenced much of Bahrain’s cultural history. Therefore conserving Bahrain’s environment is an important part of preserving its cultural heritage. Economic benefits can also be reaped from Bahrain’s natural resources whereby traditionally prior to the discovery of oil, the country’s economy thrived on its marine resources mainly pearling and fishing followed by agriculture.

Furthermore, part of Bahrain’s incredible natural heritage also lies within its indigenous knowledge of herbal and medical remedies. This knowledge is known to have been passed down from generation to generation successfully retaining this practice, which is still alive today. One of the most famous remedies widely produced and consumed by Bahrainis today to help treat abdominal pain is what is locally known as “Margadosh” [commonly known as Marjoram (Origanum majorana)].

International Recognition

Rocky hills on Hawar Islands

On an international scale, various awarding bodies, specifically UNESCO and the RAMSAR Wetlands Convention, have recognized the value of Bahrain’s natural heritage.The UNESCO (The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site program lists areas of special cultural, natural or physical significance around the world that have been identified as areas for preservation and conservation due to their outstanding value to humanity. In 2005, Qalat Al Bahrain was declared as Bahrain’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

In 2012, Bahrain was granted its Second World Heritage Site under the title “Pearling, a testimony of an island’s economy”. The site consists of seventeen buildings in Muharraq, three offshore oyster beds comprising of Najwat and Hayr Bul Thamah, Hayr Bu Amamah and Hayr Shtayyah in addition Bu Maher Fort and nearby seashore where the traditional pearling boats also known as “dhows” once set off. It is an outstanding example of traditional utilization of the sea’s resources and human interaction with the environment which has shaped both the economy and the cultural identity of the island’s society.

Furthermore, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Wetlands are amongst the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems that provide essential services and supply fresh water e.g. freshwater supply, food and building materials, biodiversity, flood control, groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation. Bahrain marine habitats: algae beds, coral reefs, sea grass beds, oyster beds, mangroves, mudflats, salt marshes and coastal dunes. Bahrain has two areas protected under the Ramsar convention (www.ramsar.org/wetlands/bahrain) namely Tubli Bay and Hawar Islands – Refer to the Protected Areas Section for more Information.

Sources

  • Riegl B.M. and Purkis, S.J. (eds.) (2012), Coral Reefs of the Gulf: Adaptation to Climatic Extremes, Coral Reefs of the World 3, DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-3008-3_I. Springer 2012 pp.1-4.
  • Ghosh, A. (1968), Protection of cultural property and development of a museum in Bahrain. UNESCO.