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DOE Denies Approving Ashouradeh Tourism Scheme

Proponents of the scheme say it will help create jobs and boost the local economy, while critics argue that the influx of tourists will cause irreversible environmental damage
Miyankaleh Peninsula, including Ashouradeh, was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1979.Miyankaleh Peninsula, including Ashouradeh, was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1979.

A senior environment official has denied a recent report that the Department of Environment has approved a controversial plan to turn Ashouradeh Island in the Caspian Sea into a holiday resort.

A report by the Persian daily Farhikhtegan last week claimed that DOE had signed off on a large-scale plan to turn Ashouradeh, the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea, into a holiday resort.

The report, which cited a letter sent by DOE to the governor general of Golestan Province, went on to say that environment officials had approved proposals to construct hotels and other amenities.

Stressing that the letter was "misinterpreted", Farhad Dabiri, deputy for natural environment at the department, told reporters on Saturday DOE "would never approve" hotel construction on the island, whose fragile biodiversity has worried activists, Mehr News Agency reported.

Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization plans to turn the island into a resort. The plan seeks to use 380 hectares of the island for tourism purposes, but DOE has said only 38 hectares can be used for tourism and the rest of the island must remain untouched.

"Only 38 hectares will be used for the scheme, which leaves no room to erect hotels and develop recreational facilities," he said.

Attempting to allay fears, Dabiri said DOE's consent to turning only 38 hectares of the island into a resort has not been finalized.

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

Proponents of the scheme say it will help create jobs and boost the local economy, while critics argue that the influx of tourists will have adverse consequences on the region’s wildlife.

  Irreversible Damage

More than 170 NGOs and prominent experts have voiced opposition to any plan calling for opening Ashouradeh to tourism.

Esmaeil Kahrom, a senior advisor of DOE and a staunch opponent of the scheme, said last year that the project will cause irreversible environmental damage.

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

Critics 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 was quoted as saying by ILNA in September. “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.”

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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