Paradise in Peril
Long before our surroundings of concrete and steel and giants of rising glittering glass of splendor that rose towards the sky, the Kingdom of Bahrain was a lush archipelago of islands, home to many types of animals, trees and other living things. Once named Dilmun, (considered one of the most ancient civilizations in the Middle East and often mentioned in creation stories throughout Mesopotamian history from the 3rd millennium BC and onwards) was believed to have been called the Garden of Paradise in the historical Epic of Gilgamesh.
Dilmun was also a hub for seafaring trade routes, reigning supreme over the Arabian Gulf. Bahrain owes its success and natural wealth to the environment and a number of goods on which it has relied on for millennia. From basket weaving and fishing nets, which are made from palm fronds, to pearling and fishing, fruit of the surrounding waters, Bahrain and the environment are one and the same.
Bahrain’s Pearling Pathway, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in in 2012, would never have existed without the oysters that provided these naturally made jewels. Over the centuries, the Island’s industry, economy, society and culture has been deeply connected with extracting pearls. These “fish eyes from Dilmun”, (described by an Assyrian inscription dating back to 2000 BC) have continued to be one of the most valuable treasures known to man. However, our pearling heritage and history is under immense danger due to environmental loss, pollution, dredging and overfishing. Significant populations of pearl-forming oysters, mangroves and seagrasses, coral reefs and many other species sensitive to environmental changes, have been destroyed.
It is not hard to understand why these societies before us often described our beloved Bahrain as an enchanting domain of growth and wealth. Our sunsets are paintings of ruby red skies and leaf gold coated clouds, and not too long ago, Bahrain’s environment was a pristine habitat, home to many incredible species of birds, animals, sea life and a range of vegetation.
Over 195 species of plants have been documented on Bahrain’s surrounding islands, including 17 species of native mammals, 14 species of reptile and over 54 species of fish. The islands are frequented by migratory birds who pepper Bahrain’s brilliant sky in their arrow-head formations as they climb the winds and claim home to one of the many surrounding islands. Up to 14 species of birds have been recorded, and 6 species of these birds have been unfortunately classified as threatened.
As part of our journey towards the betterment and increased education of our environment, The Generous Light Co. recently attended a seminar held at the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage that discussed the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species of Bahrain.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, created a global list of threatened species titled the Red List of Threatened Species, has become a widely known catalog used by governmental bodies, NGOs and scientific institutes for evaluating the status of conservation of both animal and plant species alike. Gathering vital information from a galvanized network of researchers and environmental scientists from all over the globe, IUCN has created a highly specialized list, maintained by using an accessible database provided by the IUCN Global Species Programme. The IUCN List of Threatened Species enables the conservation status and classification of animals, plants and fungi that determine the risk of extinction.
By providing a global evaluation, IUCN can better determine whether a species of animal for instance, falls under one of the following: Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Other categories include Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. If a species lacks enough information, they would fall under Date Deficient and if a type of plant, fungi or animal are edging close to the precipice of endangerment, they would then be labeled as Near Threatened.
From the start of this new year, 2017, the ARC-WH, along with the Supreme Council for Environment in the Kingdom of Bahrain, launched the first assessment of its kind to study the current environmental status of specific species believed to be under threat using guidelines and techniques provided by IUCN. As part of the initiative to tackle the hazards that our fragile environment faces, a panel of Bahraini experts came together to evaluate 29 species proposed for evaluation. While so far only 23 of the 29 species have been analyzed due to lack of data, it was concluded that of the 23, 16 fall under the category of Threatened, and 2 under Near Threatened.
Even before holding the seminar in January 2017, the IUCN and the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage have worked closely together, along with other researchers and organisations towards saving the threatened species of Bahrain.
For instance in February 2015, the Arab Regional Center along with participants from the University of Bahrain, the Arabian Gulf University and the Supreme Council for Environment (SCE), met in order to assess the selected species of Bahrain’s flora and fauna that would, due to their impending status, belong on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The two day workshop brought these experts and specialists together to provide the needed supporting information and requirements in order to catalog the selected threatened species of Bahrain that would be added to the List.
This List included the following: the dugong, the Green Turtle, the Black Mangrove, the Socotra Cormorant and the Orange spotted grouper (Hamour). The workshop gave researchers the tools to better analyze the risks and threats that these species are faced with; information that we as a community should aim towards learning.
Attending that seminar was jolting. Along one of the walls in the sunwashed hall, an assemblage of saddening statistics and facts of great loss were fashioned under photographs of animals and plants belonging Bahrain. Those close to being lost forever sat in their picturesque worlds of water and land, staring back at us as a terrifying premonition and warning: if something isn’t done soon, photographs and studies of these animals and plants will be the only thing left for us to cherish.
Written by: Laila Al-Yafi