Securing Biodiversity through Protecting Areas
Eritrea houses a large variety of globally significant biodiversity. With a newly launched project, GEF, UNDP and the Government is increasing efforts to protect these valuable natural resources.
The project initiation workshop took place on the 22nd of July, with the ultimate objective to establish national conservation areas covering nearly one million hectares of currently un-protected terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Eritrea has earlier tried to establish a modern system of protective areas, but to date, it has no formally protected terrestrial or marine areas. UNDP/the Global Environmental Facility and the Government’s new project aims to establish management systems for protected areas and contribute to restoration of the ecosystem, sustainable land management and the protection of species and habitats.
Nature and wildlife in Eritrea
Eritrea has a very diverse flora and fauna, both at land and at sea. The country has a unique northern African elephant population, and the world’s only viable population of free ranging African wild ass (donkey).
The nation has thousands of kilometres of coastal areas where you find diverse mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass. The Red Sea is thought to have the world’s highest diversity of species west of Indonesia, with over 1100 fish species and 44 types of corals recorded.
The extensive mangrove forests along the coastal zone provides breeding habitat for many bird species e.g. the flamingos, other migratory birds and contributes to mitigation of global climate change. Experts agree that Eritrea’s marine resources are showing surprising resilience to global sea warming caused by climate change, which could provide valuable lessons as the world is trying to understand and cope with the challenges of climate change (ECMIB Assessment study, 2007).
Threats to biodiversity
This valuable nature and wildlife in Eritrea, however, is threatened. The primary threat to wildlife in Eritrea is habitat loss, where both traditional practices, such as unsustainable grazing, cultivation and forestry, and emerging drivers such as mining and tourism is contributing. In the highland ‘green belt’, deforestation is a substantial threat. A century ago, 30% of Eritrea was covered by forest, but less than 1% of this remained in 1995. Today, commercial fishing coupled by effects of climate change also poses significant threat to Eritrea’s biodiversity.
Because indigenous people regularly depend on the eco-systems for survival, part of the long-term solution to biodiversity loss includes local communities. For the project to be sustainable, one has to find livelihood options for local communities that sustains, rather than degrades the ecosystem, but at the same time provides for a better quality of life.
The project has identified a number of areas to focus on, as these offer outstanding opportunities to conserve globally significant biodiversity. These are the Semeneawi and Debubawu Bahri (the Green Belt), the Buri Peninsula, the Hawakil Bay, the Irrori or Wengobo plains and Bera’ sole Bay.
Collaborating with the ministry of Land, Water and Environment and the Forestry and Wildlife Authority, UNDP sees this project as particularly important.
We are certain that this project will contribute substantially to securing the long-term survival of Eritrea’s globally significant biodiversity, says Rose Ssebatindira, Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP in Eritrea.
Semenawi and Debubawi Bahri Green Belts
Located in the central highlands of Eritrea, these areas house some of the last remaining tropical coniferous and broad-leaved forest along the Horn of Africa. There are also 20 mammal species, including greater kudu, klipspringer, bushbuck, Ethiopian and common genet, leopard, Hamadryas baboon, spotted and striped hyena. This is an important bird area harbouring 66 resident and migrant species.
Located along the central coast, this pilot site includes the marine areas of Hawakil Bay and Dissei Island. The region represents one of Eritrea’s most important storehouses of biodiversity. The coastal area has significant mangrove forests, sea-grass, and coral.
Bera’ sole Bay:
Located along the southern Red Sea coast, this coastal wetland provides habitat for tens of thousands of flamingo birds, other migratory and resident wading birds.