People, Travel

Unique Island, Common Threats

Unique Island, Common ThreatsUnique Island, Common Threats

Ashuradeh is the sole island of the Caspian Sea. No country lets its unique island be sacrificed for financial gain, said environmental activist Hossein Akhani during a meeting on eco-tourism of protected areas.

The meeting which was also attended by the director general of Golestan Department of Environment (DoE) Esmaeel Mohajer, environmental activist Horr Mansuri, and journalist Mojgan Jamshidi was to discuss the acquisition of Ashuradeh lands to tourism projects, Nasim News reported.

 Unique in Northern Hemisphere

Ashuradeh Island, Golestan Province, is only 600 hectares, Hossein Akhani noted. “Before establishing tourism projects in the area, we should first find out whether the conditions are ripe from a legal and environmental science point of view.

Ashuradeh’s ecosystem is unique throughout the northern hemisphere. The tourism plans, devised on the island so far, have ignored the fragile biodiversity and other environmental concerns, including the 170 plant species under the threat of extinction.

The DoE should first have in-depth knowledge of the area. The island cannot house tourism activities, on either a large or even on a small scale. “The area is simply too small to accommodate tourists,” Akhani added.

  No Land Cession

“Culturally, our people are not friendly with nature; in occasions like 13th of Farvardin, the first month of spring in Iranian calendar year, they spill out to ruin the nature, ironically under the pretense of bonding with nature,” director general of the provincial DoE Esmaeel Mohajer said in response to Akhani’s argument.

Based on the memorandum of understanding signed on Ashuradeh’s tourism, the largest construction will be a two-story building, which needs to be environmentally approved, but the DoE does not yet have access to standards and indices on ecologic buildings, Mohajer said.

No land acquisition will take place on Ashuradeh Island; and it should be noted that of 688 hectares of the island’s area, 380 hectares is private property.

  Lack of Expertise

Criticizing the government’s bill, environment expert and activist Mojgan Jamshidi said that the government’s decision was made without expertise. The DoE must have signed the MoU under pressure, without seeking expert opinion; senior officials of the organization could have reminded the president about the environmental risks involved.

Jamshidi recalled that the DoE was once decisive and determined, when it stopped road development in Abr ‘Cloud’ forest in Shahrud county, Semnan Province, while the forest was not even environmentally protected. “How come the organization does not show any objection against such plans in the protected zone?” she asked.

  Extent of Harm

Environment activist Horr Mansuri gave a worrying description of the island’s environmental condition: fresh water inlet has been blocked. There is no Caspian carp around the island. Unsupervised tourists enter the area in great numbers, many folds over the ecologic capacity. There are about 750 passages of tour boats each day in high season, giving rise to noise pollution and chemical threats, and to top it all, the Ministry of Education is building a hotel in the area, beckoning more tourists over.

  Expert Opinion Sought

The DoE director general objected to the criticisms by Jamshidi and Mansuri, Mohajer, saying that the plans would not inflict further damage on the natural habitat of Ashuradeh. “Approval of the plan was given by a team of senior experts from the DoE,” he said.