Integrated Semenawi and Debubawi Bahri-Buri-Irrori- Hawakil Protected Area System for Conservation of Biodiversity and Mitigation of Land Degradation
Eritrea is a young and relatively small country (121,320km2) located at the northern part of the Horn of Africa. It has 2,234km of Red Sea coastline and an estimated 390 islands, primarily in the Dahlak Archipelago. Forests cover 53,000 ha or 0.44% of the total land area; woodlands 670,395 ha or 5.5% and grazing and browsing land 5,984,799 ha or 49.2%.
Woodlands and pasturelands represent two of the most important carbon sinks, although up to date data on flows are lacking. Critical ecosystem services sustained by forests and woodlands include: a) supporting nutrient cycling and soil formation, b) provisioning food, water, fuel-wood, forage, etc c) climate and flood regulation; and d) recreation etc. Because it lies at the intersection of a number of major biomes, Eritrea has a diverse range of ecosystems.
Parts of the country lie in two Biodiversity Hotspots, with significant global environmental values. A portion of the south-central area of the country falls into the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot, and contains remnant but degraded Juiperus-Olea forest and scrub. The east and south-east of the country falls within the Horn of Africa Hotspot, which has relatively high endemism, although the arid conditions lead to low plant diversity.
The country is also one of the centres of origin and diversity of agricultural biodiversity, primarily cereals including sorghum, wheat and barley. Some of the most significant biodiversity is found in the marine and coastal areas, with over 1248 fish species and 44 genera of hard corals being recorded. These are also the most intact of all ecosystems. Of further conservation significance are the breeding populations of sea birds (including, importantly, crab plovers, marine turtles (including the world’s largest hawksbill turtle and dugongs. There are relatively large stands of mangrove forest along the coast of Eritrea.
The project goal is to conserve a representative sample of Eritrea’s critical biodiversity. The objective is to establish a national system of protected areas to conserve biodiversity and mitigate land degradation pressures on habitats in key biodiversity areas, initially centred in the Semenawi- Debubawi Bahri-Buri-Irrori- Hawakil Protected Areas Cluster. This will be achieved through three components that directly address each barrier:
Outcome 1: National PA system is established in Eritrea -- National institutional framework and capacity to facilitate PA management in place: A national policy and institutional enabling environment will be built in a number of ways. First, the project will facilitate the establishment of a National Protected Area Management Unit with a legal basis and a clear mandate to coordinate the development and management of a national protected area system that, with time, increases the percentage and representativeness of protected areas to internationally agreed targets. Building on experiences from the countries in the region, the PA Management Unit will be an independent Parastatal.
Secondly, the project will facilitate the establishment of systems for effective and efficient management and administration of the protected area system, including co-management. This will include the establishment of offices, defining business and work plans, securing staff members with relevant skills, and formulation of staff development program to sustain the unit. It will then develop the mechanisms for streamlining the enactment of legislation, regulations and policies, primarily by bringing the Ministry of Justice into protected area development processes as a key stakeholder and participant.
Outcome 2: Management effectiveness is enhanced within a sample of restricted use system of protected area. The project will operationalize the management of the already gazetted Semienawi/Debubawi Bahri National Park (100,000ha), the Buri-Irrori Nature reserve comprising of 10,000 ha habitat for the African wild ass, the Green Island and Ras Fatuma Islands Nature Reserve for protection of turtle breeding nests; and, the Bera’Soli marine reserve comprising of 100 ha habitat for the protection of breeding grounds for many marine birds, including ostriches. The project will therefore facilitate the formation of a National Park/Reserves Board with a legal basis, mandate and operational capacity to manage the National Parks and Reserves.
This will include provision of Operational Headquarters with offices, staff quarters, visitors’ accommodation, logistics, equipment (electronic radios, vehicles), etc. The project will also facilitate the staffing of the National Parks and Reserves Board, ensuring that the staff have, or acquire relevant skills to cover all management and conservation functions (enforcement, policing, reporting, survey/monitoring work, participatory management and climate change risk management). It will also provide local communities adjacent to the new National Park and Reserves with awareness, structures and capacity to negotiate and implement co-management agreements.
Finally, the project will facilitate active management of the National Parks and marine reserves including vegetation restoration, ecological surveys to document species, population dynamics, feeding habits, ecosystem productivity, etc. The process will also lead to the development of several tools that will be useful for replicating the PA system country-wide.
These include guidelines for adaptation; guidelines for the formation of strategic partnerships among stakeholders (the national government, the zoba administration, local level judiciary and police, the private sector, civil society and local communities). They also include tools for determination of the conservation and livelihood targets at the systemic level and guidelines for their determination at the site levels; a template for site-level management plan components within a business planning framework; a monitoring and evaluation framework that will determine the effectiveness of management at a site, to facilitate adaptive management.
Outcome 3: SLM practices applied to reduce threats to a managed resource use PA with capacity for effective co-management (with communities). Under this component, the project will seek to reduce the threats to biodiversity in the National Park and the Reserves by involving communities in co-management and adoption of climate resilient SLM practices to increase land productivity and contain threats in the wider landscape. It will start by increasing the protected area system by a further 190,770ha of newly created Managed resource use PA (IUCN VI) in two blocks of 180,770ha in Buri-Irrori PA and 10,000ha in Bay of Bera’Soli.
It will then facilitate a consultative process to formulate management plans for the PAs, including co-management. Development of management plans will build on existing initiatives, to ensure that management arrangements (partnership) are agreed among national government organizations, zoba, judiciary, private sector, and other technical and financial partners. The first step will be to review and adapt existing documents, and to consult stakeholders to produce PA Management Plans that identify management objectives to suit local development needs as well as national conservation and economic development objectives.
Protected areas are a primary attraction for tourism; which creates jobs and increases national and local incomes for development. In turn, this provides an incentive to maintain them as PAs with benefits to conservation. The SLM will arrest current resource degradation (water, land, forests) trends in the project areas, creating more productive pastures and fisheries sectors, resulting in local livelihood improvements such as food security and increased incomes for men and women in degraded areas.
Sustainable management of forestry and pastures for moderating runoff will reduce flooding that affects downstream populations. Better land management will also lead to improved ecosystem integrity, and delivery of ecosystem goods and benefits, including carbon storage and sequestration. By incentivising application of SLM, the project will create an enabling environment for greater investments in SLM activities generating global environmental benefits beyond the project’s lifetime. Moreover, the project covers the geographic region with estimated population of 45,000 people where women constitute 50%. Bearing this in mind, women will also benefit from participation in the sustainable forest, woodland and pasture management practices that constitute a large portion of income of beneficiary households.