Translated by Rasha Zantout
NNA – Tenth of March is the National Day of Nature Reserves. Where are these reserves located in Lebanon? And what makes them deserve such a label? Following is an overview of these reserves that highlights their importance and characteristics.
Natural reserves are areas of land or sea that have an important ecological nature or have natural scenic beauty. They are a natural wealth of splendour culture and tourism dedicated to preserving and maintaining natural resources, particularly biodiversity. They represent the various ecological systems in Lebanon. They are also the basic pillars in the policy of rural development, and the best means for safeguarding nature against industrial alterations, environmental deterioration and rapid growth in both population and urbanization. All these factors pose a threat to natural national heritage and national wealth. Thus, these reserves are a type of preventive measure against changes forced upon the environment by Man. These natural reserves are true testimonies to our natural tradition and national riches and we must protect them for the sake of future generations.
Lebanon has fourteen natural reserves that form about 3% of its area. These reserves encompass rich biological diversity with around 370 different kinds of birds and 2000 types of plants and wild flowers, many of which are unique to Lebanon. The natural reserves are also home to thirty species of mammals, including the wolf, hyena, wildcat, porcupine and squirrel.
These reserves are established and run under the management and supervision of the Ministry of Environment, and embrace most of the remaining cedar forests of Lebanon.
The overall land mass of all cedar forests in Lebanon is 2000 Hectares spread over 12 different forests, including:
Qammoua (protected natural site), Ehden (natural reserve), Bcharre (protected forest), Tannourine (natural reserve), Hadath el Jibbeh, Jaj (proposed to be a natural reserve), Ain Zhalta, Bemharay, Barouk, Maasir el Shouf (natural reserve), with the hope that other sites could be organized into the network of Lebanon’s natural reserves.
Lebanon’s fourteen natural reserves are:
- Ehden Forest natural reserve
-Nakheel (Palm) Islands natural reserve.
- Cedars of Tannourine Forest natural reserve.
- Shnaneer natural reserve.
- Bentael natural reserve.
- Al Yammouna natural reserve.
- Arz el Shouf natural reserve.
- Tyre coast natural reserve.
- Houjeir Valley natural reserve.
- Karem Shobat natural reserve.
- Nature reserves of Ramiyah, Kafra, Beit Leef and Dibil.
In addition to these nature reserves, there are 28 protected forests in Lebanon and 17 natural sites.
Following are a few global rankings of Lebanese reserves:
There are three biosphere reserves categorized by UNESCO through its program Man and Biosphere Reserve:
- The Shouf Biosphere Reserve (2005), which includes Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve and a deep swamp as well as 22 surrounding villages.
- The Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve (2008).
- The Jabal Al Rihane Biosphere Reserve (2007).
There are four Ramsar sites of Wetlands of international importance as Waterfowl habitat: Rass Al-Shaqaa, a deep swamp and two coastal reserves in Tyre and Nakheel (Palm) Islands.
It is to be noted that there are two areas classified as private reserves of importance for the Mediterranean, which are the Nakheel Islands nature reserve and the coast of Tyre nature reserve. Moreover, there are 15 important sites for birds, and 5 sites listed on the World Heritage List; one of which is categorized as a world cultural site, which is the valley of Wadi Kadisha.
Reserves, particularly nature reserves, serve an important role in the protection and sustainability of natural resources, particularly biodiversity. They are a pivotal component in local and rural development through the influx of visitors who, in turn, contribute via ecotourism in augmenting the income of local communities living within the vicinity of natural reserves.
Ecotourism is directly linked to these reserves as it helps fortify the relation between reserve work groups and local communities by bettering the latter’s socio-economic status. Hence, in 2002 the concept of ecotourism was clearly defined and adopted by the international summit held in Canada’s Quebec upon the invitation of the United Nations. Quebec declaration on ecotourism defines it as “a responsible visit to natural reserves that
represents a valuable economic opportunity for local and indigenous
populations and their cultures and for the conservation and sustainable use of nature for future generations and can be a leading source of revenues for protected areas.”
The basic elements of ecotourism management and infrastructure have become available to natural reserves and their surrounding villages. Local reserve committees along with their work groups manage eco-touristic activities in collaboration and coordination with a group of associates on the national level, such as Eco-tour Operators, owners of guest houses who offer board and lodging for tourists, and local tour guides who accompany visitors and supply valuable information and safety measures.
Eco-touristic activities are wide in range. Some of these include nature walks, cycling, bird and animal watching, learning about plants and local traditions, stargazing, and other educational activities that target school students. These go hand in hand with appropriate infrastructure, such as paths for hiking, road and site signs, and readily available gear and equipment the like of bicycles, binoculars and cave exploration tools. Marketing ecotourism can go a long way with appealing and well organized websites.
A closer look at some of Lebanon’s nature reserves gives a clearer image at why these places are a natural wealth worth preserving and visiting:
Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve: Located on the north-western slopes of Mount Lebanon, it is engulfed by mist and relatively high precipitation. A multitude of rare and endemic plants flourish in it. Stands of cedars are bordered by a mixed forest of juniper, fir, and the country's last protected community of wild apple trees. It is home to the endangered Eastern imperial eagle, Bonelli's eagle, Gray wolf, and the wildcat.
Nakheel (Palm) Islands Nature Reserve: Consists of three flat uninhabited rocky islands of eroded limestone and the surrounding sea area, located 5.5 kilometres offshore and northwest of the northern city of Tripoli. The islands are a haven for endangered loggerhead turtles, rare monk seals and a resting and nesting grounds for migratory birds. It is rich in medicinal plants and its coastal waters have a wealth of fish and other marine creatures. Swimming is allowed in parts of the island during the summer season.
Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve: One of the largest and densest cedar forests in Lebanon, with 90% of its trees being Cedar trees. The stunning mountainous landscape, with cedars seemingly defying gravity and growing on extremely vertical slopes, is impressive. Visitors can explore rock-cut or naturally occurring grottos on their hike, as well as rare flowers, such as Lavender.
Bentael Nature Reserve: One of the earliest natural reserves in Lebanon, it is located on the hill slopes of north-eastern Jbeil (Byblos). It is known for its Pine trees. The reserve is situated along the path of migration of birds such as eagles and hawks as well as other birds of prey, making it a site of interest for bird watchers.
Yammouneh Nature Reserve: Located on the eastern slope where Makmil and Mounaiterah mountains meet, it is rich in water. It has 84 springs and 4 ever-running rivers as well as two seasonal rivers. The reserve is also a historic site, encompassing Phoenician, Roman and Arab ruins (from a Romano-Byzantine temple which included a statue of Aphrodite that was later transported to Baalbek). It also includes the remains of a large fortress which used to be the summer retreat of Emperor Adriano. The Emperor ordered his army to engrave in stone “I, Emperor Adriano, announce Yammouneh region a reserve and forbid the cutting of its Juniper trees.”
Yammouneh is rich in greenery and trees that make up 30% of its land mass.
Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve: One of the largest natural reserves in Lebanon. It extends from Daher el Baydar in the north to Neeha Mountain in the south. Its oak trees cover its north-eastern and south-eastern slopes. The reserve is most famous for its three magnificent cedar forests: Barouk, Maaser el Shouf and Ain Zhalta.
Its mass comprises a third of what remains of the cedar forests of Lebanon.
Some of the trees are estimated at two thousand years old. This reserve is home for medium sized mammals such as the wolf, and the Lebanese jungle cat. It is also known for a variety of birds and wild plants.
The reserve is a favourite destination among hikers, nature walkers and bird watchers.
Tyre Coast Nature Reserve: Located in south Lebanon, the reserve has some of the country’s best sandy beaches. It is characterized by its ecological, marine and coastal ecosystem. In addition, it is an important nesting site for migratory birds and the endangered sea turtles.
The natural reserve contains fresh water estuaries and springs that outflow to the sea thus creating a fresh/ marine water interface. Both visitors and scientists recognize it as one of the most beautiful and scenic beaches in Lebanon, with the widest biodiversity.
Recently Established Reserves:
Shnaneer Nature Reserve: Established in 2010, it is surrounded by the towns of Ghazeer, Mehrab and Jounieh.
The reserve is rich in Oak and Pine trees.
Houjeir Valley Nature Reserve: Established in 2010, it stretches from Litani River below the city of Nabatiyeh until the town of Aytroun in Bint Jbeil district. The reserve is also known for its Oak tree forests.
Nature Reserves of Ramiyah, Kafra, Beit Leef and Dibil (Bint Jbeil District): They were all established in 2011.
Activities of the National Day of Reserves
The Ministry of the Environment with the collaboration of the Committee for Shnaneer Reserve organized earlier in March 2014 a celebration for the National Day of Nature Reserves.
All natural reserves in Lebanon also celebrated said important day in the first week of March by organizing a variety of activities, including nature walks, bird and animal watching, and preparing environmental awareness programs for schools.
The gates of all reserves are open to everyone of any age. Visitors can expect optimal authentic Lebanese hospitality and accommodation in the guest houses located in the villages of the reserves.