Feb 25, 2009

Bahrain's seagrass and dugongs possible World Heritage Marine Site

Heritage hope for new sites
Rebecca Torr Gulf Daily News 25 Feb 09;

A MARINE ecosystem that stretches across Bahrain and other GCC countries could be nominated as a World Heritage Site.

Particular marine areas in the east of Bahrain have the potential to be part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Marine Site because of their sea grass and dugong (sea cow) population, said a heritage expert.

"Bahrain's sea grass and dugongs could be a possibility for a World Heritage Marine Site," Culture and Information Ministry adviser for natural heritage Dr Saeed Al Khuzaie told the GDN.

"But it will be part of a large area because the population of dugongs are also from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and maybe even the UAE.

"There are no boarders on ecosystems. We think of large areas to be considered as World Heritage Marine Sites."

He said Bahrain had other sites such as oyster beds that could be consider as world heritage, but they would qualify as cultural heritage sites rather than marine.

"To be selected as a World Heritage Site, it has to be unique," said Dr Al Khuzaie.

"For example, if it is a coral reef, compared to all other reefs in the world, it will have to show it is globally unique - it must have what we call 'Outstanding Universal Value'.

"To be on the list is a worldwide recognition that you are protecting a site not only for national interest but also for global interest - for humanity.

"For example, Qal'at Al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is a World Heritage Site because it is the only capital in the world for the Dilmun civilisation."

Dr Al Khuzaie said for the Gulf area that supports sea grass and dugongs to become a World Heritage Marine Site, it would require co-operation between countries.

"The Gulf must work together to research this special feature. We must prepare the file jointly," he said.

"The site has to be unique, natural phenomenon and not replicated in other places."

Dr Al Khuzaie was speaking on the sidelines of the opening of the three-day workshop on the global marine heritage site selection and world heritage and marine protected areas in the Gulf and Red Sea.

"The workshop will have an outcome that will discuss the recommendations for sites in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf," said Dr Al Khuzaie.

Bahrain is one of 21 countries to be elected onto the Unesco World Heritage Committee.

Since Bahrain was elected in October 2007, it has been working with various regions of the world to help in the preservation and promotion of cultural and natural heritage.

"To be a member, you need to have a programme on how you will contribute - this is one of the obligations of being in the committee," explained Dr Al Khuzaie.

"We are assisting Sudan and providing them international expertise to help them prepare a nomination file for their marine sites."

The workshop is held under the patronage of Southern Governor and Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife president Shaikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa at the Novotel Al Dana Resort Bahrain.

It is organised by the Culture and Information Ministry, Unesco and the public commission.

The event brings together International Union for Conservation of Nature - World Commission on Protected Area (IUCN-WCPA) marine regional co-ordinators, international experts, individuals and authorities.

Almost 200 of the 878 World Heritage Sites are listed for their natural values and 37 are protected for their marine biodiversity values.

Marine sites are also considered an area of potential for future nominations of World Heritage properties in the Arab region.

Several such initiatives are currently under discussion in the region.

The results of the workshop are expected to accelerate the recognition of marine protected areas and other related initiatives at global and regional levels.

A report on the workshop will be published and presented to the Unesco World Heritage Committee to assist in the future targeting of marine activities by Unesco and IUCN.

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