Egypt: Omayed Biosphere Reserve

Introduction

© Thomas Schaaf
Omayed Biosphere Reserve, Egypt

The Omayed Biosphere Reserve (OBR) is located in the western part of Egypt and stretches along the Mediterranean coast on a length of 35 km. Covering a total area of 75,800 ha and ranging from 0 to 110 m, the site was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1981, and extended in 1998.

The OBR is located in a warm desert and semi-desert ecosystem. Habitats range from littoral calcareous dunes to inland ridges with skeletal shallow soils, saline marshy and non-saline depressions, an inland plateau, pasture land and fig plantations. Its climate has been described as ‘sub-deserted warm temperate climate’ with a rainy season in winter and dry, hot summers. Water resources in the area are very scarce.

The OBR is home to about 5,500 people, mainly nomadic and semi-nomadic Bedouins, though in some areas the people have become sedentary in recent decades. In general, living standards of Bedouin communities are low due to water scarcity, limited access to social services and lack of infrastructure. For their livelihoods people depend on raising sheep, intensive quarrying and some rain-fed cultivation of grain crops (barley), vegetables and orchard.

Project objectives

SUMAMAD project/Boshra Salem
Omayed Biosphere Reserve, Egypt

Five specific objectives have been identified for this second phase of the project:

1. Preparedness of the local community to combat expected climate change.

2. Construction of a recent land use/cover map of land transformed areas, using recent satellite images.

3. Strategic assessment of development projects.

4. Capacity building activities (workshops for local council personnel and biosphere reserve management team on governance mechanisms and training of young scientist from the SUMAMAD team).

 

5. Development of income-generating activities (examination of needs assessments of the poor local community, continuation of provision of sewing machines for women to provide alternative income opportunities, production of jam and dried fruits from fig plants and marketing of the fruits).

Results

© Thomas Schaaf
Omayed protected area, Egypt

Geo-databases have been used to help define variable systems of the OBR and to monitor changes in land cover in order to determine the impacts on ecosystem services and what effects any declines in ecosystem services would have on social patterns and activities of the indigenous communities. This led to the development of a management plan for the OBR, which, however, had a short lifespan due to the political changes in Egypt in 2011. As such, the geo-databases were reviewed and the OBR management plan was refined. The OBR has been split into two areas (north and south), each with different activities, and five core areas have been suggested.

The extension of the lake, which is a threat to the OBR, was happening in parallel with the extension of agricultural activities, leading to a seepage of water from high to low land irrigation and resulting in the deterioration of olive trees. This led the project team to study all the water systems in the area and their effects on OBR. It was found that the lake extension is having effects on water systems both within and outside the OBR, affecting land use patterns. If this continues, high soil salinity can be expected to be seen in the future.

© Thomas Schaaf
SUMAMAD workshop in the Omayed Biosphere Reserve

Research is being done on the use of vegetation Gel Nutrition Media (GNM) on threatened species in the OBR due to its water-efficient properties. Experiments were carried out in the lab and in the desert using soil and seeds from the desert, mostly barley. Early indications show that the area treated with GNM is producing more vegetation. The use of GNM might be a cost-effective approach for conserving water and increasing soil conditions.

Natural recharge of groundwater lenticels has been assessed to estimate the sustainable water abstraction; this activity is still ongoing until the end of the rainy season (March 2012).

In terms of policy-relevant guidelines for decision-makers, documents (e.g. leaflets) were produced in Arabic on the importance of biodiversity and its conservation and the conservation efforts being made. Training is also being provided to local communities through workshops.

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