Ecotourism Can Help Conserve Ashouradeh

Talks of turning the island into a tourist resort started 16 years ago but they took on a more serious tone in 2013
Ashouradeh is the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea.Ashouradeh is the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea.

Ecotourism, if managed properly, can help protect the fragile ecosystem of Ashouradeh and prepare the ground for sustainable development in the small but ecologically-diverse island, according to an activist.

Speaking to ILNA, Hor Mansouri Abdolmaleki, the head of the environmental group Miyankaleh Watch, said ecotourism might well be the only way to ensure the survival of species on the island, so long as "there is a structured management system that ensures the Department of Environment's regulations are implemented".

The wildlife sanctuary on Ashouradeh, the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea, is home to a variety of animal species, including rabbit, fox, jackal, partridge, ring-necked pheasant and different species of seabirds and fish.

Talks of turning the island into a tourist resort started 16 years ago but they took on a more serious tone about three years ago when a comprehensive plan was proposed by a group of investors.

"The plan relied heavily on development of new infrastructure that would put the sanctuary at risk," Abdolmaleki said. "But activists' timely intervention brought the DOE into the debate."

  No Action Taken

Golestan Province officials had said earlier that the DOE would announce its final decision on a revised proposal by Dec. 20, but no announcements have been made.

In fact, the last time a government official visited Ashouradeh was toward the end of summer, when Hesameddin Ashena, cultural advisor to President Hassan Rouhani, visited the island.

"Nothing has been done to develop Ashouradeh's tourism," said Abdolmaleki, who reiterated his support for a well-structured ecotourism scheme.

"Compared to everything that's going on around the island—construction of a refinery, development of an economic zone and poverty in the region—ecotourism might well be the only way to save the region."

The activist noted that ecotourism is a form of sustainable development that helps people make a living from their natural surroundings.

The argument is that when the environment becomes the main source of income for the locals, the government need not pursue industrial development that could harm the region's ecosystem.

Abdolmaleki said the easiest way to ensure the protection of Ashouradeh and the ecosystems it supports is to reconcile the locals with the environment.

"We need to establish a rapport between people and nature, which is one of the pillars of sustainable development," he said.

Ashouradeh Island is located at the easternmost end of Miyankaleh Peninsula to the northeast of Gorgan Bay.

Miyankaleh Peninsula and Gorgan Bay were registered in 1969 as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In 1979, the peninsula, including Ashouradeh, was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

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