A series of meetings on wetlands and waterbirds was held in January 2001 in Bahrain, under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Abdulla Bin Hamad Bin Essa Al-Khalifa, the Vice President of the National Commission for Wildlife Protection. On 13 and 14 January, the second Middle East Regional Meeting of BirdLife International was organized by the Middle East office of BirdLife International (Regional Office in Amman, Jordan, head of the office, Adnan Budieri), with participation from BirdLife partners and affiliates from Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen.
On 16 and 17 January, an Arab States Outreach Conference was organized by Wetlands International, in connection with the development of a request to GEF for funding of the "African-Eurasian Waterbird Flyways" project; the project aims to identify actions required to implement the Ramsar Convention and the CMS/African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) throughout the flyway from the Arctic to South Africa. The outcome of the conference in Bahrain will be a special section on the needs of the Arab states in the final project document. The participants in this conference, which was more governmental in nature, came from Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, who provided extensive background information on the wetlands and water birds in their area, and will continue to provide further input to the project document. At present, four Arab states in the Middle East (Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) are Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, and only Jordan is a party to AEWA. It is hoped that another outcome will be the accession of further parties from among the Arab states to both Ramsar and AEWA.
On 15 January, participants had an opportunity to visit the Hawar Islands, which have been designated by Bahrain for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The site is made up of a series of islands, most of them uninhabited, which provide nesting sites for many typical birds of the region (including Socotra Cormorant, Osprey, Sooty Falcon and several species of tern – Caspian, White-cheeked, Lesser Crested and Bridled). On 18 January, some participants were able to visit Bahrain’s other Ramsar site in Tubli Bay, an area of mudflats and mangroves right in the centre of the capital, Manama, with good populations of flamingos and shorebirds. Although industrial and building land is at a premium in this situation, the Bahraini authorities have succeeded in conserving a sample of the original habitat with magnificent potential for ecotourism and public attention.
In the opinion of the participants, these meetings were the first occasion when participants from so many Arab countries met under the auspices of BirdLife and Wetlands International, to discuss regional issues of wetland and water bird conservation. One clear conclusion is that greater emphasis needs to be given to the fact that coastal areas - very extensive, biologically rich, and economically important for their fisheries in all the Gulf states - are very much an integral part of the Ramsar and AEWA concept and definition of wetlands. It is clear that the wetlands of this area, normally regarded as arid and birdless, are on the contrary vital breeding areas and stopover points for migratory birds that move from Novaya Zemlaya to the Cape of Good Hope.
-- reported by Michael Smart