Bahrain shows the way for Gulf Countries to protect their biodiversity

Bahrain, which means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, is the third smallest nation in Asia after the Maldives and Singapore but boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world. An archipelago off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain was once made up of 33 islands before extensive land reclamation increased the number to 84.

Land reclamation is part of Bahrain’s drive to attain economic, environmental and social sustainability which it hopes will see household incomes doubled by 2030. But it is an ambition that is being dampened by threats to the nation’s biodiversity. Climate change, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, droughts and water scarcity are putting immense pressures on the country's wildlife.

Bahrain is a centre of biodiversity in a region characterized by dry conditions. More than 330 species of birds have been recorded in the Bahrain archipelago, including one globally endangered species, the Houbara bustard.

Bahrain is home to the second largest population of dugongs, following Australia, and hosts the largest breeding colony of the Socotra Cormorant in the world. It also boasts two wetlands protected under the Ramsar Convention and one UNESCO natural world heritage site, as well as a number of marine protected areas.

In a bold effort to safeguard its biodiversity for future generations and restore its degraded lands, the Bahraini government embarked on a two year project in 2013, in collaboration with every major sector of Bahraini society to document and conserve the country’s biodiversity for the first time in its history.

It is hoped that through this process - which culminated in the development of Bahrain’s first implementable National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan - livelihoods can be better protected and food security assured in a country with less than 3 percent arable land.

Balakrishna Pisupati, a biodiversity and governance expert from UN Environment who worked with the Bahraini government on the project said, “We worked closely with them to ensure that their National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan aligned with all of the other biodiversity related conventions, including desertification and climate change, Ramsar on wetlands and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.”

“This is really critical, because through these kind of synergies Bahrain can contribute to achieving the Global Biodiversity Targets and help meet carbon mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

The strategy aims to restore marine resources and fish stocks to safe and sustainable limits in addition to protecting agricultural lands from urban development which has become a growing problem for the rapidly developing nation.

“Everyone was engaged in this process - NGOs, the public and private sector, including the Ministry of Finance and oil companies, academic institutions and youth. Even though it may have taken longer and required a lot more effort on the government’s part, now Bahrainis are so much more aware of the kind of biodiversity the country actually possesses and what’s at stake if we don’t do more to conserve it”, said Reem Al Mealla, founder of ‘Inspiring Change’ and a biodiversity conservation and marine specialist who helped implement the project.

One very critical aspect of the process was to ensure that any biodiversity goals and objectives aligned with the Global or ‘Aichi’ Biodiversity Targets, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. This has enabled Bahrain to understand the significance of their national efforts to achieving much bigger global development objectives. 

Bahrain is the first country in the Gulf to establish a Clearing House Mechanism for biodiversity, which is essentially a biodiversity database, and an obligation under the Convention on Biological Diversity. In the process, they have found 20 species that weren't previously known to live in Bahrain.

In a bid to boost south-south cooperation UN Environment identified experts from other developing countries who trained local stakeholders in updating and managing the Clearing House Mechanism. UN Environment also helped to identify funding sources through the Global Environment Facility and supported capacity building on the Aichi Targets and Strategic Plan for Biodiversity.

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