People, Environment

Pilot Tourism Project to Commence in Ashouradeh

Critics of the project say it will adversely impact the island’s ecosystem. Critics of the project say it will adversely impact the island’s ecosystem.

A pilot tourism project will soon start in Rouchoun Wildlife Refuge in Ashouradeh, the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea, said an official in the Department of Environment.

In October 2015, the top brass of DOE maintained Iran’s protected zones could open up to tourists, in line with the department’s strategy of encouraging public collaboration in protecting the environment.

They believe the financial benefits of developing ecotourism in wildlife sanctuaries and conservation areas could help cover the expenses of maintaining the sites.

Farhad Dabiri, DOE’s deputy for biodiversity, announced the upcoming launch of a tourism project in Rouchoun, despite overwhelming opposition from environmentalists, ILNA reported.

Critics, including Esmaeil Kahrom, a senior advisor to DOE chief, Massoumeh Ebtekar, argue that as long as a sense of responsibility toward nature and the environment has not been instilled in people, allowing tourists in protected zones can only lead to the destruction of ecosystems.

They also maintain that despite Ashouradeh’s ecological importance, it is devoid of tourism value, which necessitates the establishment of infrastructure.

However, Dabiri believes the island has tourism potential and as long as tourists adhere to environmental frameworks, no harm will come to the area. “Clearly, if the island is opened up to tourists, providing travel services such as lodging is inevitable,” he said. “Personally, I believe construction of hotels in the area is unconscionable. If a lodging facility is to be built, environment-friendly eco-lodges are the most logical choice.”

Backing the pilot plan, Ebtekar told IRNA that she is not generally against letting tourists in conservation areas, but the implementation of such risky projects calls for strict rules and clear frameworks.

She labeled the protected zones as “treasures” vulnerable to mismanagement that could lead to a permanent loss of rare plant and animal species.

The demarcation of buffer zones for the protected area has been started, which will mark the areas open to and banned for tourists. This is part of the reserved areas management plan on a broader scale provided by DOE. Involving local people, villagers and farmers are among other management strategies that Ebtekar talked about.

The wildlife refuge on Ashouradeh Island is home to various animal species, including rabbit, fox, jackal, partridge, ring-necked pheasant, and different species of seabirds and fish.

The island is located at the easternmost end of Miankaleh 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.