I have just returned to Amman after spending five days in the Gulf – the small island country of Bahrain to be exact. My colleague Haifaa Abdul Halim and I headed to Bahrain last Sunday, along with an independent IUCN contractor Laith El Moghrabi, to conduct a workshop on the IUCN Red List. The IUCN Red List (RL) is a classification system for the world’s biodiversity, ranking species according to the level of concern their population status merits. The list ranges from Least Concern (House Sparrow) to Critically Endangered (Mediterranean Monk Seal), with options also including Vulnerable, Extinct, Regionally Extinct, and others.
Species are analyzed either at a Global level, or a Regional level, with Regional referring to any area of analysis smaller than the whole world. Classifying species according to the RL requires following a specific procedure, with precise criteria that must be achieved in order to reach each classification. The workshop in Bahrain aimed to train four scientists from Iraq’s Ministry of the Environment and one representative of the NGO Nature Iraq on the RL classification process and begin a regional assessment for the Iraqi Marshlands.
The Iraqi Marshlands are globally significant wetlands located in southwestern Iraq near Basrah and bordering Iran. They suffered during Saddam Hussein’s rule, with Hussein ordering the wetlands be drained and dredged substantially to weaken the minority populations that relied on their ecosystem services. Over the last ten years, the wetlands have seen renewed efforts to restore them, and they are on the path to recovery.
Since this workshop was not directly tied to my research, I joined in as a participant to learn from Laith, who facilitated the training, about how to implement the RL. I also had the opportunity to learn from the Iraqi scientists, both in matters regarding the Iraqi wetlands and environmental policy in Iraq post-occupation. And of course, I spent plenty of time listening to highly technical discussions in Arabic – these are actually easier for me than day-to-day rapid conversation and cultural references, because all we study in class is high-level vocabulary! And many of the scientific terms are used in English intermittently, since the words in Arabic don’t necessarily correspond exactly.
Finally, I also made the most of my time in Bahrain by meeting with several experts in marine policy – Sheikh Khalifa Al Khalifa (of the royal family), who works at the Arab Regional Center for World Heritage and formerly worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a marine expert; Abdulqader Khamis, head of the biodiversity branch of the newly established Supreme Council for the Environment; and Dr. Saeed Al Khuzai of the NGO Al Reem Environment Consultation and Ecotourism. I interviewed these three to get a sense of marine policy in Bahrain and in the Gulf (one oyster reef MPA and two other paper park MPAs exist), the extent to which marine biodiversity is prioritized (it’s not, coastal development continues unchecked, with sand being extracted from one coastal marine area and used to reclaim other areas to expand the island – a double whammy of sorts), and any information they had regarding invasive species in the region (generally speaking, not available).
The workshop was an exciting and exhausting trip – I was immersed in Arabic, traveling in the Arabian Gulf, and learning a great deal. Now it’s back to Amman and the next step towards my project proposal: arranging more interviews with key informants and determining where the project will focus its interventions.