“Take nothing but photo, leave nothing but footprints!!!” is the motto of the Forestry and Wildlife branch in the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). The ministry is in charge of protecting the treasures of the nation-wildlife and forests.
At present, Eritrea has a formally protected area system for conservation of biodiversity. Since, 2014 policies, legislations, regulations and institutions have been put in place to properly manage protected areas and achieve conservation objectives.
Besides this, studies have been undertaken jointly by the MOA and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations since 1997. The proposed protected areas (PPAs) of Semenawi and Debubawi Bahri (SDB); Buri-Irrori and Hawakil Islands (BIHI), as well as the Bara’soli have been identified by the government as potential areas for biodiversity conservation. The Ministry of Marine Resources on its part has also placed the immediate marine surroundings for the BIHI area as one of its prior spots in terms of marine conservation, which is also included in the Eritrea’s Coastal, Marine and Island Biodiversity ‘ECMIB’ project.
However, the application on the ground is delayed due to financial and capacity limitations.
In parallel with the government’s strategy of biodiversity conservation and development, the biophysical field survey was conducted between December 2012 and January 2013 to assess baseline information and description of the biodiversity features and the associated physical environment of the three PPAs.
The Proposed SDB protected area is part of the central section of the eastern escarpment of Eritrea, which is part of a larger geographical and geological region known as the Horn of Africa. The Climate of the area is tropical semi-arid characterized by summer rains with pick mean annual rainfall more than 1000 millimeters in the north part of the PPA.
All rivers are seasonal, mainly flowing during the two rain seasons. Whereas the proposed BIHl is part of the area generally called the Afar depression, on the western margin of the Danakil horst. It is an arid and semi-desert area with rugged terrains and plains characterized by extreme hot summer and very small amount of summer rains. Fresh groundwater is scarce along the semi-desert coastal plains of Buri peninsula. Bera’soli PPA is also hot and arid coastal area characterized by extreme hot summer and little rainfall.
The land use land cover (LULC) study and mapping was used as a base for the evaluation and presentation of the sustainable land management (SLM) practices and land degradation (LD) within the PPAs. Seven major land use land cover types were indentified in SDB and six in BIHl. The most significant land degradation types identified in the PPAs were vegetation degradation and soil degradation due to a serious encroachment for agricultural expansion, overgrazing and firewood logging from adjacent communities. Erosion caused by wind also plays an important role in the degradation of land in BIHI and Bara-soli, as the vegetative cover of the land does not sufficiently protect the soil.
Structural measures (bench terracing, hillside terraces, micro-basins and check-dam etc.), enclosures to enhance natural regeneration and tree planting on degraded hillsides and around farm lands as hedge barriers are the most commonly used SLM technologies and practices in the PPAs.
The vegetation communities, marine and terrestrial wildlife habitats of the three PPAs, have been delineated and seven vegetation communities / ecosites/ in SDB and five in the BIHl have been identified and a total of 72 sample plots were assessed for species diversity and richness. In the SDB, Terminalia brownie vegetation community is found to be the most diverse of all the vegetation communities investigated with diversity and species richness is 45(S = 45). Comparatively, the Opuntia ficus indica dominated vegetation community is the least diverse community and has 42 species (S = 42) within the community. Similarly, the Acacia laeta vegetation community /ecosite, which is found in the undulating mountains by the north- east side of the Buri Peninsula is found to be the most diverse of the five vegetation communities and has the highest number of species (S = 17). The Avicennia marina (Mangrove) vegetation community located in the intertidal zone of the Red Sea coast, is the least diverse of all vegetation communities and has the lowest number of species (S = 2). A detailed check list of species of trees and shrubs for the two PPAs is prepared.
The MOA research unit has discovered around 20 mammals and 111 bird species in SDB and 16 mammals and 62 birds’ species in BIHI. The major critical wildlife habitats in SDB are Mountain Meqa, Mogo, Medhanit, Filfil, Debre-Ma’ar, and Mountain Bizen; and the Buri-peninsula, Irrori plain, Messir plateau, Wongobo valley and Shukorai oasis are found to be the most critical habitat for mammals and birds in BIHI. In terms of wildlife species diversity and occurrence Greater kudu, Bushbuck, Leopard, Bush pig are the mammals which exist in SDB PPA and are classified as national vulnerable species (nearing endangered) given the low population in the county according to Department of Environment, (2008). In BIHI area the most important wildlife species and of great concern of extinction are the African Wild As, Soemmerring’s gazelle, Dorcas gazelle, and Ostrich.
Eritrea’s part of Red Sea is known for its high biodiversity. It has well-treasured coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, and reefs (both stony & algal) as well as inter-tidal habitats. The proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are identified as being an exceptional biodiversity of plant and animal species yet some of which are deemed highly endangered. These include: Dugong (globally endangered), and Green and hawksbill turtles. Of the four mangrove species known in the Red Sea, three (Aviccenia marina, Rhizophora mucronata, and Ceriops tagal) have been recorded in the Proposed MPA and the most common is Avicenna marina.
Marine species diversity and occurrence within the proposed MPA is enormous. All the 16 species of whales recorded from the Red Sea are likely to appear in Eritrean territorial waters. Five of the seven sea turtle species known to exist globally are known to be found in the proposed MPA. Dugongs are classified as vulnerable and their sighting within the Buri Peinsula MPA was reported in 1995. The Proposed MPAs provide ideal habitat for the breeding of a large number of non-resident and resident sea or shore birds. A total of 45 species were recorded 25 of which are migrants from Europe while 19 are residents of the Proposed MPAs. Unsustainable exploitation, Physical alteration, alien species and pollution stand to be the major threats to marine biodiversity within the proposed MPA. Hence, this baseline assessment which serves as a base for the design of project document is intended to create the requisite capacity by facilitating policy and institutional arrangement for the establishment, governance and management of protected areas in the country. The main emphasis of the PAs is likely to protect the targeted species such as African wild ass, Nubian ibex, African elephant, greater Kudu, Warthog, Klipspringer, Soemmerring’s Gazelle, Dorcus Gazelle, and marine mammals (whales and dolphins), turtles and sharks and other species that are considered to be endemic or whose populations are considered to be at risk.
After these preliminary surveys have been conducted on these three protected areas, especially from the year of 2014, the ministry started its project by demarcating the boundaries of the areas while cooperating with local communities, providing awareness raising campaign on the purpose of PA establishment and giving training of guarding the areas.
Mr. Futsum Hagos, an expert in biodiversity conservation who is active in different activities of biodiversity conservation, said that with the hard work of the ministry and the government the project has yielded good outcome and the assessment of biodiversity has been well and the wildlife situation is climbing up. For instance, bird species have increased from 66 to 130.
On-going activities of public awareness raising using various social media, sign posts, posters and brochures as well as giving on the job trainings to the staff and scouts were productive in enhancing the proposed surveys and protecting the areas, he added. The main purpose of the project is to develop eco-tourism by making the protected areas tourism-attraction sites.
Mr. Futsum also recommended that every Eritrean farmer, herder, military, civil servant and the public in general should protect this natural resources and consider them a national heritage that should be naturally sustained. If wildlife is conserved and, whenever circumstances allow sustainably utilized, the economic, social and cultural contribution to the nation could not be underestimated. It is also the moral responsibility of the people to keep these resources in trust so the future generation have something to cherish.