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ROWA Media Update

17 August, 2006

Takes on the wild of Hawar

Second series of 26-minute documentary to capture Bahrain’s ecological wonders
Bahrain’s Hawar Islands will find a top spot in a number of documentaries featuring Arabia’s wildlife and regional conservation issues.

This is the second in a series sponsored by Jeep and produced by Ocean World Productions with producers hopeful it will be picked up by top TV channels such as Al Arabiya (in Arabic), the Discovery Channel and Showtime’s TV Land (in English).

The 26-minute documentary to be shot later this year will feature the ecological wonder of the world’s biggest nesting population of the Socotran cormorant and the rare sooty falcon. It will also show the waters around Hawar which are home and feeding grounds for dugongs, or sea-cows.

The film crew and the research team will continue their dugong study which began during the shooting of the first series of Arabia’s Cycle of Life and hope to also capture on film a rare, possibly endemic, freshwater terrapin. The first series of 12 26-minute programmes was the region’s first comprehensive natural history TV series, sponsored by Jeep.

The first series attracted the interest of international broadcasters and was picked up for airing on Discovery Channel’s ‘Animal Planet.’ This was the first time a regional production has been picked up by ‘Animal Planet’.

Jonathan Ali Khan, managing director of Ocean World Productions who is project leader, director and cameraman says, “I feel this is a step forward for all regional filmmakers. We have shown international broadcasters that the region is capable of making international-class productions featuring Arab world subjects. This kind of development helps us position Arabian story content on TV screens in other parts of the world with massive audiences, helping to create awareness about Arab world subjects.”

The second series, to be broadcast in next spring, will complete the focus on wildlife and ecological diversity found across the Arabian Peninsula with another set of 12 episodes. “This time, our expedition starts with a return visit to Oman to the remote Hallaniyat Islands (previously known as the Kuria Muria Islands) in the southern Dhofar region.

The 12 episodes will focus on the whale species that frequent these waters, new species of marine life that have never been filmed before and the Omani marine-cave system with freshwater fish and other cave-dwelling creatures. On the Oman-Yemen border, the team will film one of the last true strongholds of the Arabian leopard.

“We will place camera traps and try to film wild leopard with the help of mountain tribesmen. The leopard story will feature the captive breeding work at Sharjah Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife which is also supporting the establishment of protected areas in Yemen,” he said.

One of the highlights of the project will be the island that time forgot: the Island of Socotra. The remote island, belonging to Yemen, split off from Africa over 35 million years ago, carrying some unique plant species that have since evolved in isolation.

Over a third of the plants are endemic, and islanders have learnt to use many for amazing medicinal applications. Endemism extends to insects, reptiles, birds and marine life, and the intrepid film crew will liaise with the United Nations and Yemeni researchers based on the island to establish ways to safeguard this unique part of Arabia’s natural heritage. “Part of our focus is to find species that have never been filmed before such as a large bird-eating spider the size of a side plate (the male),” said Khan. “The female of the species has never been photographed, and, according to local island inhabitants, is said to be enormous. Given that in many arachnid species, the male is often dwarfed in comparison to the female, we do not know what to expect. Inside a newly discovered cave system on the island, we found giant, venomous centipedes that prey on bats, giant whip spiders and many new endemic creepy crawlies.”

In Yemen, they will continue the search for Arabia’s endemic species, especially freshwater fish, insects and some remarkable birds. The team will dive the waters of the Gulf of Aden to find unusual reefs formed in sunken volcanoes off the Belhaf coast.

The marine focus continues into the Red Sea where they will visit the remote Kamaran Island archipelago and Zubayr Island.

During the making of the second series, the Ocean World Productions team will join the World Wildlife Fund coral-reef monitoring project as scientists from Qatar, the UAE and the US work on the region’s first joint coral-reef monitoring project in the remote warm waters between Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

There, the team will look at issues affecting the survival of Arabian Gulf corals and ecosystems.

Finally, Khan and his team will move on to Kuwait. “There we will ascertain the true long-term damage to the first Gulf War’s oil spill through the eyes and research of Kuwait’s many researchers, environmentalists and scientists.

“We see this as a symbolic way to conclude the second series, reflecting on the lessons learned from how Kuwait recovered from the scale of environmental damage incurred.”

Seminar on water tourism
SALALAH — A seminar on water tourism was held at the Directorate General of Heritage and Culture in Dhofar Governorate yesterday. The event was organised under the auspices of Eng Ahmed bin Ali al Amri, Head of Dhofar Municipality. The one-day seminar was organised by the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources and Oman National Committee for International Hydrology Programme.
Salim bin Faraj Abdoon, director-general of the directorate-general of environment and water resources in Dhofar Governorate, said the seminar was continuation of the efforts being exerted by the ministry to develop, manage and preserve water resources and to create water awareness among the people. He highlighted the importance of springs as a major water resource in the Sultanate. As many as 360 springs exist in Dhofar Governorate, located on hill strips and edges adjacent to the plains and Najd areas. Also, these springs are important tourism attractions. He said water tourism is contributing significantly to the tourism sector.
Eng. Sulaiman bin Said Khalfan, deputy director general of water resources at the ministry, delivered a speech on behalf of the Omani National Committee for International Hydrology Programme (ONCIHP), assuring the committee's support for the efforts of the authorities and technical support being provided by the Natural Sciences sector of the UNESCO, which was established in 1975. He said the ONCIHP comprises 10 representatives of government departments and headed by the ministry.
These departments will communicate with international organisations to collect up-to-date information and technical assistance on the international hydrology programme and UNESCO, exchange of information and expertise, spread of water awareness among consumers, on how to rationalise and protect water from pollution.
Working papers were presented by officials from the Ministries of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources, Agriculture and Fisheries, Transport and Communications, Health, Salalah Waste Water Services Co and Dhofar University. The seminar was attended by several members from the State Council, Majlis As'shura, Walis, Shaikhs and other dignitaries. — ONA

Environmentalists demand urgent clean-up of oil spill
BEIRUT: Since the Israeli bombardment started a month ago, Mustafa Asmar, a 43-year-old fisherman, has not been out to sea. Although the cease-fire went into effect on Monday, Asmar is still out of work because more than 300 tons of heavy fuel oil pollutes the small Delieh port where he docks his boats with other fishermen.
"I hope the oil will be cleaned as soon as possible so I can go back to the sea," Asmar said, adding that during the war it was too dangerous to work because of the sea blockade.
Activists and volunteers from Green Line, an environmental NGO, said Tuesday that they would start clean-up operations on the Ramlet al-Baida beach on Thursday.
"It is imperative that clean-up operations start immediately," said Wael Hmaidan, a Green Line member, during a press conference in Delieh.
"The more we wait before cleaning the pollution, the greater the damage," he said, adding that the oil has already settled deeper into the sand or had been absorbed by the rocks, posing a serious threat on the marine ecosystem.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of oil was released into the sea after Israeli warplanes hit the Jiyyeh power plant on July 15, contaminating more than 100 kilometers of Lebanese and Syrian coast in what has been described as the biggest environmental catastrophe to hit the eastern Mediterranean.

Green Line activists will use absorbent booms to pump up the polluted seawater and sand and deliver them to the Environment Ministry.
Dr. Ali Darwish, a Green Line member, said that the ministry needed to provide adequate spaces to store the collected oil.
Darwish called on the international community to pressure Israel to pay for the clean-up, at an estimated cost of more than $100 million.
Darwish also urged the ministry to put into effect a long-term plan to handle the effects of the spill on the environment, stressing that the impact will be "serious on the marine ecosystem but also on fishermen and tourism." The Environment Ministry is still working on a comprehensive clean-up plan, said spokesperson Ghada Mitri.
"The ministry has received sophisticated material including skimmers and large booms from Norway a few days ago and they are being tested in Jbeil today," Mitri said. The ministry is looking into how to handle the collected oil. One option is to treat and reuse it; others are to store it or have it disposed of.

Water brings life back to Iraqi marshlands

AMMAN — After years of systematic destruction by the previous regime, Iraq’s southern marshlands are slowly coming back to life as celebrated in a photography exhibition currently taking place at the Wild Jordan Centre.

At the opening night reception this week, Minister of Environment Khalid Irani offered his support to his Iraqi counterpart and praised the work of Nature Iraq — the environmental organisation heading up the marshland restoration.
“This project is not only important for Iraq, but for the whole region. And this isn’t only about ecological rehabilitation but also social and economic rehabilitation for the people living there,” he said.
Azzam Al Wash, chief executive officer of Nature Iraq, hopes the photo exhibition will shed some light on the situation facing Iraq’s unique ecosystems.
“We want to try to remind the world that there is this pearl, this world heritage site that has been destroyed. Though the project has resembled the country’s security situation with lots of stops and starts, the story of the marshes is the story of Iraq — a kind of rebirth from the ashes,” Wash said.
The marshland region, a 20,000-square-kilometre area situated in southeastern Iraq at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was once the largest wetlands ecosystem in the Middle East.
It is also the site of some of the country’s richest oil deposits.
The repression against the marsh Arabs began in 1988 and was motivated by a combination of factors, not least because the remoteness of the terrain provided sanctuary for political opponents of the former regime.
In 1991, the marsh Arabs themselves took part in a rebellion, which was countered with a campaign of repression and forced displacement, including the construction of extensive drainage works to deprive the marshes of the waters of the Tigris, the Euphrates and their tributaries.
As a result of this policy, 90 per cent of the wetlands were destroyed, ruining the livelihoods of the local population, whose numbers dwindled from 250,000 to fewer than 40,000.
The destruction was described by the United Nations as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters.
The photos featured in the exhibition were taken in 2005 by Iraqi survey teams recording some of the returning wildlife, restored landscape, the people and their unique way of life.
“Soon after the fall of the regime, the people there broke the dykes on their own and 45 per cent of the marshes were restored without real management,” said Narmin Othman, Iraq’s minister of environment. “Now we’re seeing a reverse migration. People are coming back.”
Since the fall of the previous regime in 2003, the marshlands have been the focus of international programmes by the Italian and Canadian governments to restore their ecological and social-cultural heritage.
Othman described the marshlands as the “the lungs of Iraq” and said much more still needs to be done. People there are in great need of drinkable water, electricity, homes, effective government structures, improved education and healthcare and proper sewage collection and treatment facilities.
The photo exhibition will continue at the Wild Jordan Centre until Sept. 30. The show is part of a world tour that includes stops in Canada, Uganda, the UK and Greece.

Probe begins into dumping of 'hazardous waste' in RAK
RAS AL KHAIMAH — The environment protection authorities yesterday initiated investigations following a complaint filed by locals that hazardous materials were being dumped by cement factories in an open area here, posing threats to their date palm plantations.
A group of RAK residents complained to the RAK Environment Protection and Industrial Development Commission (EPIDC) that some cement factories were getting rid of their wastes without adhering to the emirate's rules and regulations that encourage industries to use environment-friendly methods to dispose of any hazardous waste.
"They used to discard the waste in the rainwater ditch which makes its way into our plantations," one of the complainants told Khaleej Times on conditions of anonymity. He also said that the materials affected the productivity of their plantations considerably.
Locals said that trucks dropped off waste materials just a few metres away from the highway that links the RAK old city with the emirate's northern areas. The site is now dotted with black and grey mounds that mar the area's natural beauty, they said.
On being alerted, a specialised team from the EPIDC visited the site and took some samples from the materials dumped. Sources in the department said that the samples would undergo lab analyses and the final result would not be available before Saturday.


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