Egypt designates two new Wetlands of International Importance

Egypt’s Environmental Affairs Agency has designated its first new Wetlands of International Importance since joining the Convention in 1988, two very interesting new sites in Fayoum governorate west of the Nile River. As described by Ms Charlotte Eyong, Ramsar’s Assistant Advisor for Africa, based upon the Ramsar Information Sheets, Lake Qarun Protected Area (134,042 hectares, 29°34’22”N 030°35’23”E) is a permanent saline inland lake (one of the oldest lakes in Egypt, with Neolithic settlements along the ancient shoreline) with a small island, considered to be one of the most attractive sites for nesting birds in Egypt, and surrounding arid land. About 88 species of birds have been spotted there (in 2010, the waterbird population was estimated to be over 26,000 individuals), as well as more than 12 species of fish. The site supports threatened species like the endangered slender horned gazelle Gazella leptoceros and vulnerable Gazella dorcas and offers shelter to mammals like the Egyptian hyena, red fox, beaver, kudu and gnu as well as several species of reptiles.

The southern shore of the lake is heavily used for traditional agriculture and more recently for fish farms, and fishermen are active using rowing boats and nets. A commercial plant for extracting lake salts has the added benefit of helping to reduce the lake’s salinity. Ecotourism activities include desert safaris, boat trips, bicycling and walking through the countryside, horse and donkey rides, guided tours to the famous fossil areas and antiquities, camping in the desert, and working with local craftsmen. The site is threatened by water pollution from domestic and industrial waste disposal practices, in addition to agrochemical contamination and lack of sustainable wastewater management.

The second new site, Wadi El Rayan Protected Area (175,790 hectares, 29°12’N 030°18’E) comprises two main lakes, at different elevations, connected by a swampy channel, one of the most important habitats for certain bird species of national, regional and international importance. The area holds reasonable numbers of wintering birds such as the near-threatened Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) and Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) as well as several threatened species of mammals, including the slender horned gazelle, Gazella leptoceros. The lakes and springs play a critical role in the life cycles of a remarkable diversity of species, including 29 fish species, 164 bird species, 24 mammal species, 14 reptile species and 38 plant species.

Fishing and agriculture are the major sources of livelihood for the 12,000 resident population, and the annual fish catch has been increasing markedly. Potential threats to the site include agricultural and wastewater drainage as well as illegal hunting. Wadi al-Hitan (“Whale Valley”), within the Ramsar Site, was designated as a World Heritage site in 2005 because of “invaluable fossil remains of the earliest, and now extinct, suborder of whales, Archaeoceti. These fossils represent one of the major stories of evolution: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal” (WH List).

Source of the article: Ramsar Convention website