Habitat loss of native species in MENA region is increasing at a sensational rate as a consequence of natural and human causes. MENA has diverse ecosystems, including aquatic and terrestrial, with different climate patterns. The region have three globally recognized hotspots; the Irano-Anatolian region, the Mediterranean forest region and the Horn of Africa region. According to 2015 IUCN Red List, approximately 2476 species in MENA are under threat comprising of mammals, fishes, birds, mollusc, amphibians, reptiles, and other species. 28% of threatened species comprises of fishes, 18% plants, 12% birds, 9% mammals and rest others.
IUCN data show highest threatened species in Turkey (379), Yemen (292), and Morocco (193). The Socotra archipelago in Yemen is known for its biodiversity with 850 plant species, 30% of which are endemic. Yemen has higher percent of threatened plant species than other species, unlike other region.
Species under Threat
Considering individual country data, MENA may not account much to global threatened species. However, this region holds planet’s most of the dry and desert area with many endemic species. Arabian Gazelle, Arabian Tahr, Arabian Oryx, Bunn’s Short Tailed Bandicoot Rat, Buxton’s Jird, Dahl’s Jird, Durcas Gazelle, Euphrate Jerboa, Four toed Jebora, Golden Hamster, Nubian Ibex, Persian Fallow Deer, Slender Horn Gazelle are few of the unique threatened species present in the area.
Large and medium sized mammals are generally protected by conservation measures and protected areas by most of the countries. Small sized mammals like rodents are majorly fed to larger species destroyed as pest, or by destruction of marshy and swamps. Aden Gulf Torpedo, Ala Balik, Burdur Spring Minnow, Cave fish, Damascus Garra, Pale Dotty Back, Yag Baligi, Scrapper, Spotted Bleak, Tuz Golden Barb, Yarkon Bream are among few beautiful endemic fish species threatened by declining hydrological regime, water abstraction, agricultural pesticides, catching, dam construction, illegal fishing, introduction of alien species.
Tourism, poaching, hunting, oil pollution, looping, deforestation, dam construction, human pressures are major threats to bird species. Arabian Woodpecker, Island Cisticole, Jouanin’s Petrel, Socotra Bunting, Yemen Accentor, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler are endemic and non migratory. Diversity in reptiles (snakes, tortoise, lizards) and amphibians (salamander, newt, frogs) are also endemic and face human pressure.
MENA experiences reflective ecological changes due to water scarcity, climate fluctuation and human activities. Native non-migrant as well as the migratory species faces equal consequences. Native species take longer time to adapt new and sudden environment alterations, thereby affecting their food source, breeding habits and even modifications in gene expressions. Nomadic, migrant and vagrant species lose their connectivity and risk their life, resulting to global drop of species.
Species losing their breeding capability are among major consequence due to human activities. Preservation in captivity has shown low breeding capability in some species like gazelles. Pet keeping of rare species has been locally considered to be a part of royal luxury leading to illegal trading and demanding. Such practices hamper their nutrition, health, reproductivity and even lifespan.
Washing of pesticides into water resources, oil spills and industrial effluents (hot brine, residual chlorine, anti foaming, anti scaling agents) to marine environment, exhaust release from industries and vehicles, exposure of sounds, flaunts of artificial lights are major forms to pollution.
Intensive agricultural system, salination of groundwater, the reduction of fresh water resources, the decline of soil biota, weak fisheries management, land reclamation, harsh quarrying in mountain habitats, over grazing, overhunting, are the major threatening activity in mass.
Increasing ecotourists, entertainment facilities and infrastructural development have serious consequences for natural habitats, especially in coastal regions of Arabian Peninsula. 40 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s coastal reclamation has resulted in destruction of 50 per cent of its mangroves. GCC countries invest heavily in construction activities to build up artificial islands with limited sustainable supervision which buries the corals that support fish stocks and water quality.
Coral bleaching have destroyed 20,000 km square of coal bed in UAE coastline, representing 7.9% world’s coral cover. As far as Qatar is concerned, the rapid development has been encroaching on the mangrove populations along the coastline. Artificial coral reef building approach is one way to mitigate the environmental situations where fish breeding grounds are being destroyed especially by human activities such as overfishing, and island development and land extension along the coast lines. There is urgent requirement for strategic plans to incorporate biodiversity policies into national development planning processes in all sectors.