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The Arab world is a lot more than sun and sand. When it comes to biodiversity, many fail to see past the politics. But in truth, it is a region incredibly rich in natural habitats, many of which could be under threat if nothing more is done soon.

Here are 5 of my favourites (that are not the desert):

The Cedar Trees of Lebanon

The cedar of Lebanon is a tall evergreen tree and is considered the national emblem of Lebanon (its also found on its flag!). It is believed that wood from the tree was used to build the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem as well as the ships and temples of the Egyptian Pharoahs. Today, it is prized for its oils, resins, and high quality timber.

But deforestation has resulted in nearly tree’s 500,000 hectares decimated to its current 2,000 hectares, and has been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.

They are now protected but most of the existing cedars are up to 3,000 years old and need a minimum amount of snow and rain for natural regeneration. But hotter climates and shorter winters in Lebanon have resulted in the average annual snowfall declining and, as a result, making it even more difficult for the trees to regenerate.

Dinder National Park, Sudan

The Dinder National Park is a biosphere reserve in eastern Sudan and is connected to Ethiopia’s Alatash National Park.

The park has three distinct ecosystems (a river, a woodland and an oxbow lake) and is home to 27 species of large mammals such as leopards, cheetahs, more than 160 bird species, 32 fish species, and small mammals, bats, reptiles, and amphibians.

It is also in a major flyway used by birds migrating between Eurasia and Africa.

The ecology of the park is currently threatened because cattle herders who are being displaced from their traditional grazing lands (because of the increase in crop agriculture required due to a population increase).

The marine life in the Gulf

The Arabia/Persian Gulf that forms the coastline of many countries in the region is home to a rich and diverse marine life.

Dugongs, dolphins, turtles, sharks, and almost 500 different species of fish can be found in the the sea.

Coastal pollution, plastic waste, overfishing, acidification are some of the biggest threats to the marine life in the Gulf and protection policies are necessary to protect the natural habitats in these seas.

Forests in Saudi Arabia

The Rawdat Khuraim is a forest, just a few kilometers away from Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.

It is locally known as the “King’s Forest” because the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was known to visit the forest during the spring seasons and even built a private farm there.

The forest is now divided into two main areas – one that is accessible to all public and a wildlife sanctuary.

The wildlife sanctuary has an estimated 132 species of wild plants and 42 species of animals and is currently a popular destination for Riyadh-based universities to conduct wildlife and habitat studies and researches in.

The public park has also, in recent years, become particularly popular for walks, bird-watching, and picnics.

Coral Reefs in the UAE

The shallow waters of the southern Arabian Gulf are ideal for reef-building corals and substantial reefs have formed along the coast of the United Arab Emirates (particularly along the Abu Dhabi Emirate).

The Arabian Gulf is one of the most heat stressed marine environments in the world and the decades of contact with desalination plants and pollution are all contributing to damaging the coral reefs at UAE’s coast.

Coral reefs, because of their aesthetics and diverse variety of marine life, play an important role in UAE’s vast tourism industry as well as local fisheries.

Ras Ghanada is Abu Dhabi’s most vibrant reef and Emirati biologists believe that strict protection policies must be adapted to protect the reef from harm caused by pollution and desalination farm.

Ras Ghanada Marine Park – Photo: Goumbook

Rabiya Shabeeh

About Rabiya Shabeeh

Rabiya Jaffery is a print and multimedia journalist covering culture, conflicts, and climate from the Middle East.