Bid to protect Bahrain’s coral reefs blocked
Manama, March 27, 2012
Bahrain’s Shura Council yesterday (March 26) blocked attempts by MPs to protect Bahrain's two biggest fashts (coral reefs) as it could jeopardise four oil excavation agreements.
It unanimously rejected a bill to have Fasht Al Jarem and Fasht Al Adm protected in line with Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature classifications.
If passed, it would have meant that the government could only build family tourism facilities on them, including public parks, hotels, restaurants and jetties, in addition to the allocation of public beaches and coasts.
However, the council said the move would risk four agreements signed by Bahrain for oil excavations in those areas.
"American petroleum giants Occidental's work falls on interval two that covers Fasht Al Adm and Thai mega petroleum company PTTEP's work is on interval three, which is on the same fasht," said council committee secretary Abdulrahman Jawahery.
"The bill is unconstitutional because it means that natural resources such as oil are not being used for the public's good and would lead to huge loss in expected revenue. Protecting the two fashts means that excavation work can't be done."
MPs hoped the protected area of Fasht Al Jarem would be 240 sq km and Fasht Al Adm 260 sq m.
The bill would have penalised those who reclaim or pollute parts of the waters surrounding the fashts and could have faced three years in prison or have been fined up to BD100,000 ($265,250).
The same punishments would have applied to those who destroy the fashts' coral reefs or marine life through commercial fishing, which would have also been banned.
Violators would have been obliged to restore the place to its original state at their expense. Council member Dr Abdulaziz Abul said his colleagues took the wrong approach by rejecting the bill.
"MPs are trying to protect the two fashts from turning one day into private property and they are right in their concerns since several natural habitats are now in the hands of several VIPs," he said.
"They have precisely named the two fashts because they are two of the richest in marine resources and they want to ensure that stayed for people to benefit from and even enjoy as a family tourist destination.
"There is no clash between protection and excavation at the same time, the two companies will be just required to use environmental-friendly technologies while carrying out their work."
However, a top official said the fashts could be added to an existing bill that protects coastal areas, beaches and bays.
"There are seven natural habitats, the biggest being Hawar Islands, listed under the bill and through my authority as the concerned minister I can add more to the list," said Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi during the session.
"Those two fashts are already protected and away from urbanisation plans under the detailed Master Plan 2030, which draws the country's future zones."
Dr Al Ka'abi dismissed the proposal, saying MPs did not conduct proper studies.
"The clearest example of misinformation is the sizes of the two fashts, which are extremely exaggerated considering that no measurement has been ever made to determine the area," he said. "Fasht areas can only be determined using delicate apparatuses that not just measure inland size but also depth."
Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife director-general Dr Adel Al Zayani said the bill was unnecessary.
"Even if His Majesty King Hamad issues a decree after the National Assembly's approval, it will go back to the concerned minister (Dr Al Ka'abi) and he will be responsible for its implementation in line with what he sees applicable," he said.
"Protection is a ministerial duty and for the minister to say what can be protected and what shouldn't, a study has to be presented stating what part of the fasht is a natural habitat and what is not or whether the whole place is a natural habitat.
"A study on the fashts doesn't exist now, so protecting them entirely through law means that a void legislation exists." Meanwhile, the council approved Bahrain's plans to join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. – TradeArabia News Service
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