A conversation discussing the enormously controversial plans of the Amer Group to build another of its huge ‘Porto’ developments – this time on land along the shoreline of Egypt’s Lake Qarun, a Protected Area under Egyptian law and recognised as an IBA principally because of its wintering waterbirds and breeding Slender-billed Gulls. I’m joined by Alaa Taher, Biologist and founding member of the NGO Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE, the BirdLife International Affiliate in Egypt), Rebecca Porteous, an environmental rights campaigner working with NCE and a founding member of the ‘Friends of Lake Qarun’, and (from about half-way through) Mindy Baha El-Din of Birding Egypt.
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- Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) is a non-government organization that is dedicated to the conservation of Egypt’s natural heritage and the promotion of its sustainable use for the benefit of the present and future generations: http://www.ncegypt.org/
- Online petition protesting the proposed development at Lake Qarun: http://www.petitiononline.com/nce3/petition.html – Please sign today!
- Lake Qarun on BirdLife International: http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2009/09/lake_qarun.html
- Birding Egypt: http://www.birdingegypt.net/home.htm
- Online article about the petition: http://per-storemyr.net
PRESS RELEASE: NATURE CONSERVATION EGYPT (NCE)
LAKE QARUN IBA THREATENED BY TOURIST DEVELOPMENT
Cairo, May 11, 2011 – The Amer Group, the Egyptian real estate developer responsible for Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna, massive tourism developments along Egypt’s North and Ain Sokhna coasts, plans to build “Porto Fayoum” on 650 acres in the Lake Qarun Protected area near Fayoum Oasis.
Former President Hosni Mubarak’s government sold the Amer Group this land for only $28,000 ($.05 per square meter), according to Egypt’s American Chamber of Commerce. This is the first development of such huge proportions to be allowed in an Egyptian protected area.
This and other tourism developments planned for a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land along the northern part of Lake Qarun will undoubtedly wreak untold damage to this pristine, scenic desert area, known as Gebel Qatrani. This area contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals and remains critical to our understanding of mammalian–and human–evolution.
“[Gebel Qatrani] is one of the most interesting and undisturbed deserts in Egypt, containing crucial information about the development of civilization and the history of the world,” states Paoli Davoli, a leading egyptologist with Italy’s Salento University, who has worked for the last decade at Dime, a Greco-Roman site in Gebel Qatrani.
Just last year excavations in Gebel Qatrani revealed the complete fossil remains of a prehistoric whale, new to science. Gebel Qatrani has also been listed as a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only given its priceless fossil deposits, but also its prehistoric and archaeological treasures, including Pharaonic tombs and quarries and the world’s most ancient paved road.
The NCE also warns that this tourism development will negatively impact birds and their habitats at Lake Qarun, a BirdLife International Important Bird Area. Lake Qarun is an important wintering area for waterbirds. One of two colonies of Slender-billed Gull in Egypt breeds on an island in the lake.
Egypt’s official Tourism Development Authority (TDA), currently under investigation for corrupt and improper land deals, authorized these tourist developments, as well as the building of a 60-km asphalt road–to date half completed–through Gebel Qatrani. Although the TDA participated in numerous studies highlighting Lake Qarun’s importance for ecotourism, this body has promoted more conventional–and unsustainable–tourism developments on the lake.
Fayoum’s former governor and other high-ranking government officials also supported the construction of “Porto Fayoum” in the Lake Qarun protectorate, despite opposition from officials at the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, responsible for managing Egypt’s protected areas.
NCE is calling for Gebel Qatrani to be declared Egypt’s first UNESCO Geopark to attract tourists, create job opportunities and as a step towards making the area a World Heritage Site.
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