Hope for the survival of valuable biosphere reserves

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TEHERAN – Gorgan Bay and Golestan National Park are two valuable biosphere reserves in northern Golestan Province that are critically endangered, but the implementation of conservation plans in recent years gives hope for their revitalization.

Gorgan Bay and the Golestan National Park, which borders the Caspian Sea, play an important role in the conservation of the ecosystem and the conservation of biological species, especially those that are rare and endangered.
As a result, important measures have been taken in recent years to solve the environmental problems or reduce the deficiencies of these important natural resources, although the road to the desired state is still a long one.

Gorgan Bay
With an area of ​​approximately 400 square kilometers, the Gulf of Gorgan, also known as Gorgan Bay, is the largest gulf in the Caspian Sea. Located on the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea near the cities of Behshahr, Gorgan, and Sari, it is separated from the main body of water by the Miankaleh Peninsula and extends to the Ashuradeh Peninsula.

The rise in the water level of this body of water in recent decades has led to the prosperity and operation of ports including Gaz and Turkmen in Golestan and promoted relations with the Caspian countries.
Years later, uncontrolled water withdrawal from aquifers, reduced rainfall and increased evaporation led to the drying up of Gorgan Bay.

For every inch of drop in the water level of the Caspian Sea, roughly one square kilometer of the area of ​​Gorgan Bay has shrunk and many locals have migrated to surrounding cities.

The sharp population decline resulted in some parts of the area becoming the center of sand and dust storms, which posed a serious threat to the future of the green Golestan Province.

One of the serious damage to Gorgan Bay was the closure of the water transport route through the water supply channels of the Caspian Sea.

Parvin Ghaffarian, director of the Atmospheric Research Institute affiliated with the National Institute for Oceanography and Atmospheric, said some people consider the lack of water release from Golestan dams as one of the contributing factors to the parched Gorgan Bay.

However, the only dam that leads into the Gorgan Bay catchment area is the Nomel Dam, which only holds seven million cubic meters, while Gorgan Bay needs at least one billion cubic meters of water to revitalize.

Mir Mohammad Gharavi, the former deputy governor of Golestan, also said that Gorgan Bay is drying up, affecting water quality in addition to quantity and causing many problems for birds and aquatic animals.

In the past two years, around 50,000 migratory birds have died of botulism in the bay and if there is no solution the consequences will be irreparable, he added.

Industrial sewage treatment plants were to be built and the ingress of sewage into the bay was to be prevented. In addition, the three associated canals should be dredged to provide the bay with the necessary water and oxygen, said Hadi Haqshenas, the province’s governor.

Accordingly, the revitalization of Gorgan Bay is a priority, and eventually the dredging of the water canals was approved by the Department of Environment (DOE) and hope for the survival of Gorgan Bay has been raised.

Issa Kalantari, DOE chief, said that by the end of this year (March 21, 2022) the Gorgan Bay canals will be dredged to make better use of water resources.

If necessary, a pumping station will be built from the sea to Gorgan Bay to eliminate the lack of water flow, especially in winter, which causes the production of botulism toxin and prevents the loss of birds, he noted.

The redevelopment of Gorgan Bay, in addition to increasing the bird population, strengthening water reserves and the prosperity of tourism projects such as Bandar-e-Gaz and Bandar-e-Turkaman, reduces the risk of dust storms.

Golestan National Park
The 92,000 hectare area of ​​Golestan National Park, in addition to low resources and inadequate manpower that almost every area of ​​the country’s environment struggles with, faces various problems including overhunting, forest fires, illegal constructions, permanent loss of wildlife and significant Decrease in water and food resources, warming weather and drought.

It is home to a seventh of Iran’s plant species, a third of all birds and half of the country’s mammals, and is home to 1,350 plant species and 302 species of wildlife. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1930 as one of the top fifty ecosystems.

In order to solve some of the problems, the government has set a separate budget line for the Golestan National Park since 2019 and then made the necessary funds available to the biosphere reserve each year separately from the state funds.

Another important problem was the occurrence of forest fires which, due to the large-scale fire and the lack of equipment and sufficient labor, burned the impassable areas, several hectares of forest and pastures every year.

One of the main plans to solve this problem is to equip Golestan National Park with technological advances for the early detection of forest fires and floods by the DOE and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

The pilot began a week ago and there are plans to install more cameras and sensors to cover the area.

The installation of fences, the equipping of the protected areas with fire alarm sensors, surveillance drones, modern motorcycles, night vision cameras to detect and fight illegal hunters are among the technological advances with which the ICT Ministry wants to equip the area.

Issa Kalantari said that Golestan is the first national park in the country to be managed by a board of trustees made up of NGOs, locals and provincial government officials for three years.
“In the past three years, the wildlife population of this park has doubled under the direction of the Board of Trustees,” he emphasized.

Mehdi Teymouri, head of the national park, said that there are currently 13 protection stations and 4 active observation rooms set up for the use of rangers and DOE troops.

He said upgrading vehicles, managing and reducing road conflicts in the national park, providing a garbage truck and setting up a center for visitors are among the needs of Golestan National Park.

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