Nature reserves in Egypt: an open door to boosting tourism

Nature reserves are a valuable part of any country, and Egypt contains 30 reserves that cover roughly 15 percent of the country’s total space. Such space may be the key to welcoming back tourists lost to Egypt amidst political turmoil that has kept them at bay.

“Nature reserves are considered a priceless treasure to the country,” Mawahb Abu el-Azm, former head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), told The Cairo Post.

According to Abu el-Azm, nature reserves contain natural and historic treasures that date back millions of years, such as those found in Wadi El-Rayan reserve, which according to Egypt State Information Service (SIS) “consists of an Upper Lake and a Lower Lake, separated by a water fall.”

It also includes sulfur springs, 11 species of reptiles, nine species of mammals, including endangered species, in addition to 13 species of resident birds and 26 varieties of migratory birds.

As part of a national strategy for biodiversity conservation, law number 102 in 1983 and law number 4 in 1994 established the coordinates of Egypt’s nature reserves.

According to a May 2011 report issued by Al-Ahram, Egypt’s national strategy aims to establish at least 40 nature reserves by 2017 in hopes of potentially boosting eco-tourism in Egypt during a time when the number of tourists visiting the country is dwindling.

Abu el-Azm said areas are chosen as preserves following studies conducted by authorities in the field. An example of what makes an area applicable to become a nature reserve would be Wadi al-Hitan, or “Whale Valley,” which contains whale skeletons and other early animal fossils.

Law 102 bans committing any actions that would harm the environment, which includes killing wildlife, damaging plants and living organisms, destroying geological structures, polluting the soil, water, or air of the protected areas. Article seven explains the fines and punishment that would be given to those who commit such violations.

Abu el-Azm said ecotourism depends mainly on nature reserves and their protection is vital for boosting tourism in general.

She also said that authorities are doing their best to protect reserves against poaching, which affects the ecological balance in the preserves.

During the opening session of the 5th international conference for conservation and development of natural heritage on March 2, Raafat Khedr of the Desert Research Center (DRC) said that during the past three years efforts towards protecting nature reserves in Egypt have stumbled.

The conference was sponsored by Ain Shams University and the DRC and attended by a number of Ministry of Agriculture and environment representatives, Egynews reported.

Hussein Eissa, chairperson of Ains Shams University, said during the conference that it is vital to have a clear plan to protect preserves in Egypt and develop them because they have economic benefits for the country’s national income.

Another conference about managing Red Sea reserves and turning them into tourist attractions was organized by the Red Sea governorate in cooperation with Caring for the Red Sea (HEPCA), to be held April 18-21.

Nora Ali, head of the association, said the conference aims to put Egypt’s nature reserves on the map and increase tourism in order to not waste the preserve’s potential.

Minister of Environment Laila Iskander met with officials from the Ministry of Scientific Research to identify methods to digitally document the preserves using the latest technology, El-Watan News reported on Jan. 16.

She said during the meeting that documenting nature reserves is vitally important due to their cultural and priceless value.

The minster also visited Ras Mohamed, a marine reserve with 200 species of coral and 1,000 species of fish. During her tour she said the ministry aims to increase the number of visitors to the site to eight million each year, according to al-Wafd.

EEAA’s website says that there are 20,000 types of living creatures in Egypt, including 2,094 floral plants, 1,148 algae and 669 marine fish among others.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped 27 percent in February, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Tourism in Egypt declined after the January 25 Revolution and the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. In 2010 more than 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt compared to 9.5 million tourists in 2013, reflecting a 35.8 percent decline, according to CAPMAS.

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