People, Travel

Ashouradeh Assessment Complete

Ashouradeh Assessment CompleteAshouradeh Assessment Complete

Environmental assessment of a project to develop Ashouradeh Island into a tourism resort will be complete in a month, according to a senior provincial official.

“Drawing on the island’s ecotourism potential is what the people want,” Reza Morovati, deputy for construction affairs at Golestan Governorate, was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.

The province’s comprehensive tourism and ecotourism project is in place and once Ashouradeh’s environmental assessment is finalized, it will be presented to the government for review and final approval.

The official said because “some camps perpetually stirred the pot” and raised environmental concerns, the assessment, which took almost a year, has been done thoroughly.

Ashouradeh is an island in the Caspian Sea, off the easternmost end of Miyankaleh Peninsula to the northeast of Gorgan Bay. It is the only Iranian Island in the region.

Following reports that the government was planning to transform the ecologically-rich island into a tourist resort, environmentalists and NGOs staged peaceful protests and took to the social media to oppose the plan, citing irreversible environmental damage to the region should the plan go ahead.

Critics, including Esmaeil Kahrom, a senior advisor to Department of Environment chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, insist that as long as a sense of belonging and responsibility toward nature and the environment has not been instilled in the masses, tourist flows into protected zones can lead to more destruction of ecosystems.

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

Turning a profit is the main reason behind developing the region into a tourist resort, he charged, and stressed that any type of tourism activity will inevitably harm the environment.

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

Kahrom, an outspoken university instructor, said despite Ashouradeh’s ecological importance, it is devoid of tourism value, which further necessitates the need for efficient infrastructure.

This is while proponents of the project believe developing the region’s ecotourism, such as birdwatching, is feasible.

 Strong NGO Opposition

Over 170 NGOs and prominent experts have voiced opposition to plans calling for opening Ashouradeh to tourism.

However, Farhad Dabiri believes the island has tourism potential.

“The issue of Ashouradeh Island has been blown out of proportion,” said Dabiri, deputy for biodiversity affairs at the DOE.

Labeling critics as “irresponsible” for misleading the people, he said speaking about Ashouradeh has become “taboo”.

“As long as tourists respect environmental rules, no harm will come to the area,” he was quoted as saying.

Referring to the DOE’s strict stance against hotel construction in Ashouradeh, the official said, “Unfounded claims such as building lodging facilities in the area have made this issue drag on for so long.”

“If the Swiss failed to protect their wildlife sanctuaries-turned-tourist attractions, what chance do we have?” Kahrom asked as a matter of fact.

The 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.