Protectorates not Protected: Lake Qarun

Fayoum's Lake Qarun protectorate is one of Egypt’s richest and most treasured natural landmarks. It is also on the brink of destruction.

Lake Qarun received its protectorate status, not only because of its obvious beauty and importance for birds and people, but also for its unparalleled historical, natural and scientific importance.

The northern side of Lake Qarun, around Gebal Qatrani, hosts one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals, critical to our understanding of human evolution. Discoveries continue to be made and studied by scientists.

UNESCO is currently considering this area as a World Heritage site. Until now only three percent of the area has been excavated. Last year the excavations uncovered a complete fossil of a prehistoric whale species. This has not been found elsewhere in the world.

In a couple of years this area, which scientists say is so rich in fossils, will be under concrete.

Lake Qarun is also an internationally designated “Important Bird Area,” where thousands of migratory birds rest during their winter migration pattern south.

Flamingos, grey herons, spoonbills and many duck species, to name a few, flocked to the lake during the fall. The lake provides food, shelter and breeding grounds for a wide variety of resident and migrating birds, including several endangered species.

Egypt is a signatory of many international, environmental conventions including the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and has an obligation to address those bodies with its environmental policies, including the protection of birdlife as an integral element in global biodiversity.

But at Lake Qarun, a wave of tourism development is destroying the shoreline. Pollution is degrading its prized animal and bird habitats.

According to Egypt’s law protecting nature reserves, it is illegal to destroy, remove or pollute a reserve's natural resources–its wildlife, plants, rocks, even soil. This law, however, is subject to a final clause that states “…unless permission is obtained from the relevant authorities.” 

Often enough, the Egyptian government has given and continues to give this permission at Lake Qarun.

Despite all this, however, Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has plans to build on hundreds of acres along Lake Qarun’s northern shore–even though this area of rolling, untouched desert is meant to be a protected area.      

On the southwestern shore, development currently underway will cover around 300 acres of prime lake property. A huge cement embankment already protrudes into the lake, covering the shoreline while destroying a key bird habitat and denying local fishermen access to the lake.

The Fayoum Governorate is keen to promote development because of the promise of jobs and improved infrastructure in what is one of Egypt's poorer areas.

Analysts say, however, these developments are unsustainable and will destroy the very things that attract more adventurous tourists to the area.

Italian researchers have spent five years developing a plan for eco-friendly tourism, which would both help protect the environment by forbidding hunting, building a bird sanctuary, restricting water sports and providing fishermen access to the lake. The plan would also aide economic growth in the area by providing jobs related to eco-friendly lodges as well as eco-guiding for birdwatching and desert safaris that only locals do best.

But to date none of these options are being seriously considered. By maintaining the status quo, a protected area of international scientific and historical importance is about to be destroyed for what seems to be the short-term profit of a few rich developers.

Related Articles

Back to top button