IUCN Evaluation of Nominations of Natural and Mixed Properties to the World Heritage List

Report to the World Heritage Committee

Twenty-eighth session

28 June – 7 July 2004   Suzhou, China

Extracted from WHC-04/28.COM/INF.14B



i) IUCN/WCMC Data Sheet: 11 references.

ii) Additional Literature Consulted:
Pilcher N., Phillips R., Aspinall S., Al Madany I., King H., Hellyer P., Beech M., Gillepsie C., Wood S., Schwarze H., Al Dosary M., Al Farraj I, Khalifa A. and Böer B., 2003. Hawar Islands Protected Area (Kingdom of Bahrain). Management Plan. First Draft. National
Commission on Wildlife Protection; Aspinall S., Al Madany I., King H., Pilcher N., Phillips R., Al Dosary M., Al Farraj I., Khalifa A., Gillepsie C., Schwarze H., Wood S. and Böer B., 2003, Hawar Islands Biosphere Reserve study, Bahrain. National Commission for Wildlife Protection and UNESCO; Wilson M., 2003. World Heritage opportunities for marine biodiversity conservation in the East Atlantic, the Southern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Egyptian National UNESCO Commission and UNESCO; UNESCO, 2002, Proceedings of the World Heritage Marine Biodiversity Workshop, Hanoi, Vietnam, World Heritage Papers 4; UNEP-WCMC, 2003, Seagrass Atlas of the World; GBRMPA, WB, IUCN, 1995, A Global Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. Vol. III.

iii) Consultations: 10 external reviewers consulted. Staff from the National Commission for the Protection of Wildlife (NCWP) and other national institutions involved in the management of the site.

iv) Field Visit: Dr. A. Jeudy de Grissac, November / December, 2003.


The nominated site covers an area of 58,100ha, including 52,900ha of marine areas and 5,200ha of land. The Hawar Islands are an archipelago of 36 small desert islands. Hawar is the largest island covering around 4,100ha and is surrounded by the shallow waters of the Gulf of Salwah. The nominated area is located 26km southeast of the main island of Bahrain and extends to the international maritime boarder with Qatar. The islands are either flat (beach rock or fossil reefs covered by sand or gravel) of an altitude close to sea level or emerging remnants of limestone and sandstone formations (up to 28m for Hawar and 14m for other islands). Hawar Island is an association of both types. On land, coasts are fringed with a heavy cover of halophytes that, with the exception of patches of thorn brush, constitutes the predominant vegetation of the islands. The marine environment constitutes an extensive area of shallow waters (most of the site is less than 6m depth with an average of 2m and a maximum of 20m, which also represents the maximum fishing depth for cormorants). As a result of the shallow waters and arid climate, the salinity is very high, up to 52 parts per thousand in open waters and higher in enclosed lagoons or mudflats (sabkhas). With a tide reaching 1.5m, the flat islands can be partly flooded during storms. The currents are locally very strong and usually from north to south. Due to the shallow waters, the tide and the dominant winds, long sand spits occur to the south of some islands as well as channels with overhangs and caves in the seagrass beds. The marine ecosystem is mainly composed of extensive, dense and undisturbed seagrass beds covering different types of substrate (sandy, muddy or rocky). Seagrass beds are present off the coast of Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, the southern coast of Saudi Arabia. Within the nominated site the structure constituted by the roots of phanerogams is more than two meters thick and could have been built over the past two or three centuries. Two relatively isolated populations of green turtles and dugongs are dependent on the seagrass beds. Up to 200 dugongs have been recorded in the area and 400 to 500 individuals are said to exist locally in three to four herds, although this is yet to be confirmed by systematic research. Hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead turtles are also reported for the nominated site. Most marine species, however, are not detailed in the nomination document. Annually, more than 200,000 breeding or migrating waterfowl and wintering raptors occur on the islands. Of the 192 species of birds recorded in Bahrain, 132 are present on the Hawar Islands. Prominent among these are Socotra cormorant with over 20% of the global population (100,000 to 150,000) breeding in the site, and the western reef heron with 10% of the regional population (around 325 pairs) breeding on the islands. Other important species present in the nominated site are osprey (with 20% of the world population breeding in the site), sooty falcon, lesser kestrel and flamingo. In relation to mammals there is a population of 300 reem or sand gazelles, possibly descended from a native population of which 30 were seen in 1976. Arabian Oryx and Nubian Ibex have been introduced in the islands.

There are currently (2003) 15 sites inscribed on the World Heritage List primarily for their marine values; 7 of them include island ecosystems. There are another 26 sites inscribed on the World Heritage List which also include marine areas, 18 of which include island ecosystems. The nominated site is located in the Anatolian-Iranian Desert Biogeographical Province (Udvardy 1975) where no marine site has been inscribed in the World Heritage List. The key ecosystem of this site is the extensive seagrass bed, an important ecosystem for maintaining marine processes and productivity. However, this ecosystem extends off the coast of Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, the southern coast of Saudi Arabia. There are other sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, such as Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize); Cape Girolata, Cape Porto, Scandola Nature Reserve, and the Piana Caanches in Corsica (France); and Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture (Spain), just to mention few examples, with extensive seagrass beds. In the case of Ibiza, the reef formed by the seagrass bed structure is 4 meters high, the highest reef reported world-wide of this origin (San Félix, 1998). This is twice as high as the reef structure reported in the nominated site. In addition, these above-mentioned World Heritage sites are richer in relation to marine biodiversity than the Hawar Islands, and include coral reefs, which are almost negligible in the nominated site. The nomination gives emphasis to the significance of the site due to the presence of an important population of dugongs, considered the second largest worldwide. However, this population is not exclusively present in the nominated site as they move along the waters of the Gulf of Salwah. There is also no scientific evidence that dugongs are breeding in Bahrain waters. In addition, it is important to note that the largest population of dugongs under effective protection occurs in Shark Bay World Heritage site, Western Australia, with a population of over 10,000 dugongs which represents approximately 13% of the world population.

In the Middle East region there are other sites of similar characteristics such as the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen), declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2003, and the Jubail Wildlife Sanctuary (Saudi Arabia) which contains important seagrass habitats and coral species. Jubail is also a key bird wintering site and is the nesting site for hundreds of thousands of terns. Jubail is also the largest green and hawksbill turtle rookery in the Gulf, from which turtles migrate to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. The site is also comparable and shares similar ecological characteristics with the Marawah Archipelago of the United Arab Emirates, almost ten times larger than the nominated site (556,100ha) which is classified as a Managed Resources Marine Protected Area (Category VI, IUCN).

4.1. Ownership and Legal Status
The nominated site is 97% state owned. The remaining 3% is owned by a consortium of Government shareholders. All the other islands are state owned. The marine area around the islands was declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1995 (Royal Decree N° 2/95) and the islands were established as a protected area in 1996 (Edict N° 16/96). In 1997 the site was declared as a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which was ratified at the national level by Royal Decree N° 3/97.

4.2. Boundaries
The boundaries of the site are adequate to protect the terrestrial environments associated to the islands but, according to a number of reviewers, not well designed to offer effective protection to key marine species occurring in the area, such as the dugongs and sea turtles

4.3. Management
Additional information provided by the State Party in February 2004 in response to questions from IUCN, noted that the Governor of the Southern region of Bahrain (which includes Hawar Islands) has established a “Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife” with the governor being appointed as the head of this commission (with a rank equal to a Minister). This newly established commission is the single authority responsible for the management of the nominated site. However, while this is a positive step, the information provided by the State Party notes that the commission is under funded to adequately meet its objectives, including those associated to the protection and management of the nominated site. At the local level, there is no staff, infrastructure or equipment for managing the site. Patrolling at sea is part of the normal activities of the Coast Guards. The military troops (Bahrain Defence Forces) are responsible for the local security and provide support for surveys or coastal cleaning. However, the “Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife” has submitted to the Ministry of Finance and National Economy and to the Civil Service Bureau a proposal to fulfil the staffing and financial requirements needed for the effective management of the site, including for the establishment of a Marine and Fisheries Control, Protection and Monitoring Unit in the islands that will take over the responsibilities currently fulfilled by the National Coastguard. This proposal is yet to be approved. Clarification has also been provided by the State Party in relation to the management category applied to the nominated site, which was unclear in the nomination. At present the “Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife” is proposing to the National Assembly that the site should be categorised as a National Park (Category II, IUCN, 1994). However, this proposal needs to be discussed and approved at different levels and most probably it would need to be supported by a national law. Thus its approval would take time and it may not occur before the end of 2004. On the other hand, progress has been achieved in relation to the adoption of the draft management plan for the site that was submitted as part of the nomination. The “Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife” has officially adopted, based on the provisions under the Legislative Decree No. 21 on the Protection of the Environment, this management plan as the key tool for protecting and managing the nominated site. While this is a positive step that has already generated additional support from the National Coastguard to the protection of the site, the full implementation of the management plan requires additional human and financial resources and the implementation of a targeted capacity building programme to prepare field staff.

4.4. Human use of the area
On land, there is no development on the islands except for Hawar Island where the infrastructure includes military facilities (fenced), a coast guard position, housing for administrative staff (unoccupied) and a resort compound (fenced) including hotel and chalets.Military presence and activities have been reduced in the past years (from 5000 to 2000 troops) and cleaning of military ranges and infrastructure conducted. The hotel facilities include a hotel and some chalets. Following the dredging of a channel to access the hotel, the building of artificial islands in front of the hotel was started but has been stopped due to the lack of authorisation. However, equipment and materials have not yet been removed. The number of visitors is estimated at around 20,000 per year, mainly from Bahrain. The hotel has its own boat for transportation and the movements of visitors are restricted to the resort. The road network is limited and access to tracks is restricted to authorised vehicles only. The resort management has introduced numerous exotic species of plants without control. A power plant and a desalination plant are available but not sufficient to accept the growing demand for visitation. There is no real management of the liquid waste (directly discharged into the sea) or of the solid waste (open-fill pit). The coastal areas receive floating foam and plastics brought by currents and associated to coastal activities as well as maritime traffic. There are also reports of oil pollution associated to maritime traffic around the islands. Fishing activities have been forbidden in most of the proposed protected area by the local authority and this is enforced by the Coast Guards and the Bahrain Defence Forces that are patrolling the area regularly. Fisheries are now restricted to some coastal traps along the coast of Hawar for local needs. Trawling for shrimps exists to the north but outside the protected area boundaries. However, in the opinion of some reviewers this is disrupting the movement of dugongs and other key marine species. Traditional fishing or egg collection from locals or foreigners (mainly from Qatar) have been stopped by the military presence on both sides of the border.In addition to plant species, several species of fauna have been introduced to Hawar Island,in particular Addax, Arabian Oryx, and Nubian Ibex. These introductions have been implemented as part of a wildlife restocking plan. These species are now competing with the native reem gazelle. There are no goats but hares, rats and cats have also been introduced on this island and could threaten bird populations if transported unintentionally to other islands.

Additional information received by IUCN from the State Party (February 2004) notes that the nominated site is part of the Exploration Block No. 6 defined by the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) and currently assigned to Petronas Carigali (Malaysia) for exploration.Petronas has already conducted a seismic survey (non intrusive, i.e. not using explosives) and drilled one deep well close to the northern edge of the nominated site. A second well is planned for the second half of 2004 or early in 2005. While the information provided by the State Party emphasises the commitment of Petronas to apply international petroleum industry standards for environmental protection and safety, no information was provided on whether or not the site will be subject to exploitation if exploration confirms the presence of economically viable hydrocarbon reserves. This is a key issue of concern due to potential impacts to the integrity of the site.

4.5 Other threats
A number of reviewers noted that there are a number of threats that could affect the future integrity of the site. These are:.
°    Climate change and related sea level rise could have an impact on at least six of the islands with an altitude of less than one meter.
°    Hawar, including a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of tourism development.
°    Dredging channels in the waters of the nominated site for routing vessels and the consequences on the water quality, disturbance to dugongs and other vulnerable marine species and impacts on the seagrass communities.
°    Impacts associated to land-based sources of pollution from Qatar, which is only 2km away from the nominated site.

ICOMOS has reviewed the nomination document and has noted that it provides information on the cultural attributes of the islands which appear to include what could be significant archaeological remains. A small number of pre-historic sites have been identified together with the remains of villages, mosques, graveyards and several cisterns and water collecting systems. ICOMOS therefore recommends that the significance of these remains should be assessed in order to determine and implement appropriate conservation measures and to propose how they should be considered in the overall management of the site.

The site has been nominated under natural criteria (ii) and (iv).
Criterion (ii): Ecological processes
The nominated site contains an extensive seagrass bed, an important ecosystem for maintaining marine processes and productivity. However, this ecosystem extends along the coast of Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, the southern coast of Saudi Arabia. The geological processes associated with the evolution and dynamics of
these islands are common to many marine areas in the Arab region and worldwide and it is better reflected in other sites already included on the World Heritage List under this criterion. IUCN considers that the nominated site does not meet this criterion.

Criterion (iv): Biodiversity and threatened species
The nominated site contains the second largest population of dugongs in the world and an important percentage of the world’s breeding population of the Socotra Cormorant. However, the survival of the population of dugongs is not entirely depending on the protection offered by the nominated site as they move along the waters of the Gulf of Salwah. In addition, there are other protected areas in the region and worldwide with greater biodiversity including globally important populations of sea birds. IUCN considers that the nominated site does not meet this criterion.

The nominated site, as discussed in Section 4, does not meet the conditions of integrity as required under the Operational Guidelines of the Convention.

IUCN recommends the World Heritage Committee not to inscribe Hawar Islands on the World Heritage List. IUCN would also like to recommend to the Committee to encourage the States Parties of Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to consider, if they wish to do so, the possibility of preparing a marine transboundary nomination covering, but not limited to, the Gulf of Salwah.