Bahrain First National Report




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Kingdom of Bahrain

Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife

General Directorate for Environment and Wildlife Protection

Bahrain First National Report

To the Convention on Biological Diversity

2006


  1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report presents the first thorough assessment of the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The report was prepared with acknowledged technical support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The content reflects rapid assessment of available information in addition to consultation with many key governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as individuals with particular expertise or knowledge. Because of insufficient biodiversity information baseline, a qualitative research strategy was adopted during the preparation of this report.


The kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago of around 40 low-laying islands in addition to numerous islets, shoals and patches of reefs situated off the central southern coast of the Arabian Gulf. The country occupies a total area of about 728 km2 and has sovereignty over approximately 3000 km2 of territorial waters. The terrestrial landscape in Bahrain is predominately arid desert with limited inland waters. Alternatively, the marine biotopes are diverse albeit the prevailing harsh physical environment and include extensive sea grass beds and mudflats, patchy coral reefs as well as offshore islands.
Pearl diving formed a thrived industry substantially contributing to the national economy before it collapsed in the last century. The principal current sustainable uses of the components of biodiversity include an active, but declining food fishery and a declining, but diversifying agriculture.
Many measures have been adopted to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Bahrain. The legislative biodiversity framework is based on a wide range of national laws and multi-lateral agreements. Of particular note, the Kingdom of Bahrain signed in 1992, and, subsequently, ratified in 1996 the Convention on Biological Diversity.
There are one terrestrial and five marine declared protected areas in Bahrain. Of exceptional international importance, Hawar Islands Protected Area provides valuable feeding and breeding grounds for a variety of migratory seabirds. The breeding colony of Socotra cormorant on Hawar Islands is the largest in the world, and the dugongs foraging around the archipelago form the second largest dugong aggregation after Australia. Hawar Islands have been under full protection, and, hence, they are still maintained in pristine status with high level of ecosystem integrity. Al-Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve maintains breeding populations of rare and likely threatened species including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Successful captive breeding and re-introduction programs undertaken by Al-Areen have promoted the recovery of rare antelopes, such as the Arabian sand gazelle. Date palm tissue culture employing advanced techniques has been launched in attempt to recover the outstanding socio-economic importance of date palms. Public awareness programs are implemented on regular basis, and the provisions of promoting the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity have been incorporated into the national educational curricula.
Due to the limited scale of the monitoring programs, it was difficult to draw thorough quantitative conclusions regarding the status of and trends in biodiversity at the ecosystem, species and genetic levels. The trends at the ecosystem level seem unlikely to be promising given the accelerated urbanization, particularly in the northern Bahrain.
Urbanization is the major threat to the components of biodiversity in Bahrain. A considerable proportion of the coastline has been modified by coastal development involving both dredging and infilling operations. Other major anthropogenic stresses on local biodiversity include industrial and oil pollution, over-fishing and invasive alien species.
No National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) has been developed in Bahrain. In attempt to allocate additional funding to the management of biodiversity, an enabling activity proposal primarily aiming to develop the NBSAP was submitted in 1996. However, based on interim criteria, Bahrain has been considered, by the financial mechanism, illegible for financial and technical assistance.
Recently, the National Environment Strategy, including a chapter dedicated to biodiversity, has been prepared and is under consideration for adoption by the competent national authorities. Assuming it is adopted and implemented, the NBSAP shall promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Bahrain in light of the provisions of the CBD.
ACRONYMS



CBD

Convention on Biological Diversity

CITES

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

COP

Conference of the Parties

EIA

Environmental Impact Assessment

GCC

Gulf Cooperation Council

GDEWP

General Directorate for Environment and Wildlife Protection

GDMR

General Directorate of Marine Resources

IUCN

World Conservation Union

NBSAP

National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

NES

National Environment Strategy

NGO

Non Governmental Organization

PCMREW

Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife

ROPME

Regional Organization for Protection of the Marine Environment

UNDP

United Nations Development Program

UNEP

United Nations Environment Program



CONTENTS



  1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY i




  1. REPORTING PARTY vi




  1. INTRODUCTION 1

    1. The Kingdom of Bahrain 1

    2. Bahrain and the CBD 1

    3. Report Layout and Methodology 1




  1. BIODIVERSITY STATUS, TRENDS AND THREATS 4

    1. Status of Components of Biodiversity 4

      1. Ecosystem Level 4

      2. Species Level 5

      3. Genetic Level 8




    1. Trends in Components of Biodiversity 8

      1. Ecosystem Level 8

      2. Species Level 10

      3. Genetic Level 10




    1. Status of the Implementation of the CBD 10

      1. National Strategies, Plans and Programs 10

      2. Identification and Monitoring 11

      3. Data Management 12

      4. Sustainable Use of Components of Biodiversity 12

      5. Institutional Capacity 13

      6. Legislative Framework 16

      7. In-situ Conservation 16

      8. Ex-situ Conservation 21

      9. Public Education and Awareness 21

      10. Ecotourism 22

      11. Financial Resources 23

    2. Threats to Biodiversity in Bahrain 23




  1. CURRENT STATUS OF NATIONAL BIODIVERSITY STRATEGIES AND ACTION PLANS 26




  1. BIODIVERSITY GOALS AND TARGETS AND THE CONTRIBUTION TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF CBD 27

LIST OF ANNEXES
ANNEX-I. Standardized Questions for Analytical Purposes 32
ANNEX-II. Selected Environmental Legislations 46
ANNEX-III. Overview of the Biodiversity Chapter of the Draft National Environment Strategy 52
ANNEX-IV. Provisional Species Lists of Bahrain 57

LIST OF TABLES

Table 4.1. The Number of Species in Bahrain 6

Table 4.2. Status of Selected Species in Bahrain 7

Table 4.3. Ecosystem-level Biodiversity Trends in Bahrain 9

Table II.1. Selected National Environmental Legislations 47

Table II.2. Selected Regional and International Conventions 50

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 4.1. The organization of the Public Commission for Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife 15


  1. REPORTING PARTY



    1. Contracting Party

The Kingdom of Bahrain



    1. National Focal Point

Full name of the institution: Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife

Name and title of contact officer: Prof. Dr. Ismail Mohammed Al Madani

Vice President and Director General of Environment and Wildlife Affairs

Mailing address: P.O. Box 28690


Isa Town
Bahrain

Telephone: +973 17836116

Fax: +973 17836117

E-mail: bncftpw@batelco.com.bh




    1. Contact Officer For National Report (if different from above)

Full name of the institution: Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife

Name and title of contact officer: Engineer Zahwa Al-Kuwari

Director of Environmental Assessment and Planning

Mailing address: P.O. Box 32657


Isa Town
Bahrain

Telephone: +973 17875154

Fax: +973 17874615

E-mail: deapdir@bahrain.gov.bh




    1. Submission

Date of submission: 4th February 2006
……………………………………..

Signature of Contact Officer


  1. INTRODUCTION




    1. The Kingdom of Bahrain

The kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago of around 40 low-laying islands and islets in addition to numerous shoals and patches of reefs situated centrally off the southern coastline of the Arabian Gulf. Located between the eastern shore of Saudi Arabia and the western coast of the Qatar Peninsula, Bahrain occupies a total land mass of about 728 km2. The country is delimited by 126 km long coastline and has sovereignty over approximately 3000 km2 of territorial waters.


Climate of Bahrain is subtropical predominantly featured by high temperature and humidity levels. Mean air temperature fluctuates between 14oC and 41oC, and the annual rainfall is in the range of 39-128 mm.
With current annual growth rate about 3.6%, the total population of Bahrain in 2005 reached over 700,000 which represent a dramatic tripling of the population since 1971. Population density is relatively high particularly in the coastal strip along the northern and eastern coasts of the main island.
Prior to the discovery of oil in early 1930s, the economy of Bahrain was predominately trade-based taking advantage of the strategic location of the country in the Arabian Gulf. Pearl industry was a stone corner to the national economy before it collapsed following the introduction of cultivated pearls into the international market. At present, oil and natural gas, trade, industries and telecommunication significantly contribute to the economy of Bahrain, and there is accelerated transition towards professional financial services.

    1. Bahrain and the CBD

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), negotiated under the mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the Earth Summit conducted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and entered into force on 29 December 1993. There are currently 188 Parties to the Convention, which principally aims to promote the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The Kingdom of Bahrain signed the CBD on 6th September 1992 and formally ratified it on 8th August 1996.





    1. Report Layout and Methodology

In accordance to the provisions of Article (26) of the CBD, parties are committed to present a series of national reports to the Conference of the Parties (COP) on the measures taken to promote the implementation of the convention.

Due to financial constrains, no comprehensive strategies or plans, primarily dedicated to the implementation of the convention, have been developed in Bahrain. Because of the financial obstacles, also, Bahrain has not been able to submit the national reports requested by the COP.
This document represents the first national report provided by Bahrain to the CBD, and aims to achieve the following objectives:


  • to evaluate and promote the national implementation of the CBD in Bahrain

  • to describe the status and to assess trends in biodiversity of Bahrain

  • to recognize the major threats to biodiversity in Bahrain

  • to identify the obstacles encountered in the implementation of the convention in Bahrain

  • to facilitate the decision making processes of the CBD

  • to encourage the exchange of information and experience among Parties to the CBD regarding the implementation of the Convention

The report was prepared following the fourth guidelines of the national reports, and consists of the following major sections:



  • Section-3: Overview of Biodiversity Status, Trends And Threats

  • Section-4: Current Status Of National Biodiversity Strategies And Action Plans

  • Section-5: Biodiversity Goals and Targets and the Contribution to the Implementation of CBD

  • Annex-I: Standardized Questions for Analytical Purposes

It is worth mentioning that, with the exception of the first section, the remaining parts present responses to a series of pre-defined questions.


The report was prepared with acknowledged technical support from the United Nation Development Program (UNDP). The content of the report was mainly sourced through the following:

  • consultation with concerned governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and persons held during a workshop dedicated to this purpose

  • interviews with key experts and decision makers responsible for the conservation of biodiversity and the implementation of the CBD in Bahrain

  • preliminary review and evaluation of the relevant background documents

It has to be noted that albeit there has been a notable deal of ecosystem and species level research in Bahrain, no central systematic biodiversity information baseline has been developed. Accordingly, it was difficult to conduct quantitative assessment of biodiversity status and trends as well as the effectiveness of biodiversity management in Bahrain. Alternatively, the key methodology adopted during the preparation of this report was a qualitative research strategy. An accurate quantitative assessment remains necessary to draw thorough conclusions about the biodiversity sector in Bahrain.



  1. BIODIVERSITY STATUS, TRENDS AND THREATS

This section summarizes the status of and trends in as well as the major threats to various components of biodiversity in Bahrain. It also outlines the key measures undertaken by Bahrain to promote the implementation of the provisions of the convention.





    1. Status of Components of Biodiversity




      1. Ecosystem Level

Apart from a narrow fertile strip extending along the northern and north western coastline, the desert environment predominates the terrestrial landscape in Bahrain. Despite the barren appearance of the desert of Bahrain, it supports recognizable diversity of vascular plants providing food and shelter for many animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles, arachnids and insects.


The northern and western coastal areas have been heavily cultivated with date palms and alfalfa plantations for thousands of years forming a biologically important habitat. Indeed, date palm farms are the most diverse terrestrial habitat in the country supporting a wide range of introduced and native species, including vascular plants and algae, insects, brackish water fish, amphibians as well as resident and migratory birds. These farms were once watered by numerous freshwater springs, which, in turn, represented the most biologically diverse inland water ecosystem. Sadly, however, the freshwater springs have vanished due to over-exploitation of underground water.
Relative to terrestrial and inland ecosystems, Bahrain supports a wider range of marine habitats in spite of the prevailing harsh physical marine environment. They include inertial habitats such as rocky shores, mudflats, salt marshes, mangrove swamps and sandy beaches as well as sub tidal habitats like sea grass beds, sub tidal sands and muds and coral reefs.
The extensive limestone cliffs on some Hawar islands, such as Umm Hazwarah and Al-Wakurs, are the only few examples of classic rocky shores found along the coastline of Bahrain. The distribution of mud flats is usually restricted to low-energy sheltered areas, like Tubli Bay. Mudflats in Bahrain are distinguished by high primary productivity and, thus, provide valuable feeding grounds for a variety of resident and migratory seabirds. The monospecifc mangal of the black mangrove Avicennia marina forms a critical environment in Tubli Bay which is naturally found no where else around the country. Classic sandy beaches are restricted to the south, south-west and some offshore islands, such as Mashtan. In contrast, the mixed sand/rock habitat formed by a rocky substrate covered with a sand veneer is a dominant coastal habitat both in the intertidal and sub tidal areas.
Sea grass beds are amongst the most distinct key coastal habitats in Bahrain in terms of their environmental and socio-economic importance. Covering extensive areas off the northern and eastern coasts, sea grass beds are important foraging grounds for some threatened species such as the sea-cows Dugong dugong and the green turtle Chelonia mydas. The economic value of sea grass meadows is stemming from their importance as feeding grounds for the commercially important rabbitfish Siganus canaliculatus, nursery areas for the commercial prawn Penaeus semisulcatus, and a refuge for a high density of the spats of the pearl oyster Pinctada radiata.
Despite the rapid development pace in Bahrain, it is unlikely that the desert habitat is at immediate risk which is attributable to its extensive spatial coverage. In contrast, it is probable that the biological wealth of the agricultural, inland waters, as well as marine and coastal habitats is threatened at present. The total area of date palm farms has declined due to the accelerated urbanization in the northern part of the country. Palms, which were once almost flooded by freshwater, now require surface irrigation and in some areas there are desiccated. Without doubt, the status of the biologically rich freshwater springs is critical. They have vanished because of the over-abstraction of underground waters. Most intertidal habitat types extending along the northern and north eastern coastline of the country have been modified by coastal development. This is particularly true for mudflats and mangrove swamps in Tubli Bay which had been subjected to non-sustainable reclamation activities undertaken during the 1950s. The remaining mangal in Ras-Sanad appears overall healthy, but given its current limited geographical area, it is likely that this habitat type is threatened. Sea grass meadows still cover a considerable proportion of shallow waters around Bahrain. However, sea grass beds are regularly subjected to shrimp trawling, and, of greater impacts, reclamation and dredging activities. Coral reefs are naturally under considerable pressure because of the high salinity and temperature levels as well as the shallowness of seawater around Bahrain. In 1998, a bleaching event resulted in massive coral mortality (> 90%) at most reefs of Bahrain. At present, live corals form merely scattered patches at several reefs situated in deep waters.


      1. Species Level

The total number of species which have been identified in Bahrain is 1361 species ranging from microbes to large mammals (Table 4.1). It is highly probable that this number is an underestimate since many taxa have not been adequately identified and inventoried.


About 357 species of wild vascular plants have been recorded in the desert and cultivated areas in Bahrain. Desert plants are predominately perennial or annual herbs and shrubs exceptionally adapted to the harsh desert environment. Interestingly, in association with the rapid urbanization pace in the country, the range of exotic crops has diversified. According to a temporary list updated in 1990, 21 species of butterflies have been reported. At least 20 species of reptiles and one species of amphibians are known to occur on the islands, and lizards are particularly abundant.
Bahrain offers important wintering grounds for many migratory birds, especially in spring and autumn months. Indeed, Hawar Islands, Tubli Bay and Maqaba have been recognized by Birdlife International as Important Bird Areas in the Middle East. Over 330 species of birds have been inventoried in Bahrain; of which 26 species breed on the islands. The breeding colony of the socotra cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis on Hawar Islands is the largest in the world. Similarly, the breeding colony of the western reef heron Egretta gularis on Hawar Islands is the largest in the Middle East.
Only 18 species of terrestrial mammals in addition to 3 species of dolphins are found in Bahrain. Gazelles, desert hares and hedgehogs can still be found in the wilderness. Of particular note, the dugong herd around Hawar Islands is the second largest after Australia. In a winter aerial survey over the western Arabian Gulf in February 1986, an aggregation composed of over 600 dugongs was reported southeast of Bahrain.
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