People, Environment

ICHHTO Criticized Over Ashouradeh Stance

ICHHTO Criticized Over Ashouradeh StanceICHHTO Criticized Over Ashouradeh Stance

Environmentalists have voiced dismay over the stance of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization regarding Ashouradeh Island.

Speaking to ILNA, Esmaeil Kahrom, senior advisor to the head of Department of Environment, Massoumeh Ebtekar, said it is impossible to turn Ashouradeh Island in the Caspian Sea into a tourist resort without endangering its environment and species hosted by it.

During a press conference earlier this week, Saeed Shirkavand, ICHHTO’s deputy for planning and investment, called criticisms against turning the island into a tourist resort “delusional” and invited opponents to a debate at an academic setting.

“If the plan is to turn Ashouradeh into a tourist hotspot, then a lot of facilities need to be constructed, such as amusements parks, hotels, restaurants, maybe even race tracks. It needs infrastructure,” Kahrom said.

He said turning a profit is the main reason behind developing the region into a tourist resort and stressed any type of tourism activity will inevitably harm the environment.

“Tourists are not going to spend money just to stare at the hotel walls,” he said.

Kahrom, a university professor, said despite Ashouradeh’s ecological importance, it is devoid of tourism value, which necessitates the construction of infrastructure.

“Therefore, our criticisms have a strong basis and are not delusional,” he said.

According to the expert, over 170 NGOs and numerous experts have voiced opposition to the plan.

  Nature in Danger

Expounding on the dangers of developing Ashouradeh into a tourist resort, Kahrom said the island is “a gateway to Miyankaleh”. The area boasts 68,000 hectares of unspoiled natural beauty—home to endemic flora and rare fauna—that will “undoubtedly be harmed once tourists are allowed in the area”.

The expert said Miyankaleh, which is a wildlife sanctuary, is the only attraction in the area worth seeing.

Kahrom said if Ashouradeh becomes a tourist hotspot, those in charge will open the gates to the sanctuary to please tourists.

“If Switzerland failed to protect its wildlife sanctuaries-turned-tourist attractions, what chance do we have?”

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

On Sunday, Shirkavand said an independent consultancy firm is tasked with the island’s development as an ecotourist resort and added that a joint working group comprising experts from ICHHTO and DOE will have to approve the project.

“The firm has to comply with environmental regulations,” he said.

Earlier this month, Ebtekar said development of the island will not happen in the near future.

“Ecotourism projects will only be approved, if they are within environmental frameworks,” she said.