Ex­plor­ing the coun­try's nat­u­ral re­serves

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

Fea­tur­ing di­verse land­scapes from snow-topped moun­tains to a vi­brant coast­line, Le­banon has a rich nat­u­ral and cul­tural her­itage. We tour the coun­try’s na­ture re­serves and take in their nat­u­ral beauty

Ex­ten­sive forests used to thrive across Mount Le­banon in an­cient times. The coun­try was a rich nat­u­ral par­adise, plen­ti­ful in bio­di­ver­sity and known for its thick cedar forests and blos­som­ing coun­try­side. Though the mag­ni­tude of th­ese forests has no­tice­ably de­creased over hun­dreds of years of de­for­esta­tion, as is­sues of con­ser­va­tion and re­for­esta­tion come into cen­ter play there has been a na­tion-wide push to pre­serve the nat­u­ral land­scapes that re­main.

The coun­try’s com­mit­ment to the pro­tec­tion of its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment is clear. In the last 20 years 15 na­ture re­serves have been clas­si­fied, with Dounieh Na­ture Re­serve cur­rently un­der dis­cus­sion in Par­lia­ment, along with marine re­serves Ras El Che­qaa and Naqoura. From pro­tect­ing the nat­u­ral land­scape and rare species to en­cour­ag­ing a sus­tain­able eco-ap­proach to tourism and boost­ing the lo­cal econ­omy, the benefits of clas­si­fy­ing na­ture re­serves are many. "If the area is rich in bio­di­ver­sity and in­cludes en­dan­gered, rare and en­demic species that need pro­tec­tion, the main aim of declar­ing it as a na­ture re­serve is to con­serve th­ese species and their habi­tats," says Lara Samaha, Head of Depart­ment of Ecosys­tems at the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment.

Here are some of Le­banon’s stunning na­ture re­serves await­ing dis­cov­ery:

The Palm Is­lands

The Palm Is­lands, which lay off the coast of Tripoli, was one of the first to be clas­si­fied back in 1992. Take a boat from the city’s Mina be­tween July-septem­ber and spend a day ex­plor­ing this iso­lated wilder­ness. The his­tor­i­cal re­mains of an old Cru­sader’s church are still vis­i­ble, along with a fresh­wa­ter well from the same pe­riod. The is­land still thrives with wildlife from mi­gra­tory birds, to tur­tles that come to its shores to lay their eggs.

Horsh Eh­den

Also rec­og­nized as a re­serve in 1992, Horsh Eh­den still fea­tures part of the for­est that made up the Cedars. With a unique cli­mate, Horsh Eh­den is the place to see an abun­dance of plants, in­clud­ing many rare and en­demic species, also host­ing a for­est of ju­niper, fir and wild ap­ple trees. With a stunning land­scape of val­leys and gorges, punc­tu­ated by the color of flow­ers, Horsh Eh­den is a hiker’s par­adise.

Tyre Coast

With some of the best pre­served sandy beaches in Le­banon, wet­lands that have been rec­og­nized as a site of “in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance” and Phoeni­cian fresh­wa­ter

wells, Tyre is home to marsh birds, and a mul­ti­tude of plants. It’s also the nest­ing site for en­dan­gered Log­ger­head and Green Sea Tur­tles. Take a snorkel and ex­plore Tyre’s un­der­wa­ter life or visit the Or­ange House Project (03 383080

The or­ange house project), run by Mona Khalil, ded­i­cated to tur­tle con­ser­va­tion, which also dou­bles as a guest­house.

Al-shouf Cedar

The largest nat­u­ral cedar re­serve in Le­banon, Al-shouf Cedar, stretches from Dahr Al-baidar in the north to Niha Moun­tain in the south, cov­er­ing five per­cent of Le­banon’s land and boasting 25 per­cent of the coun­try’s re­main­ing cedar forests. In 2005 UNESCO clas­si­fied it as a bio­sphere re­serve, in­clud­ing Al-shouf Cedar Na­ture Re­serve, Am­miq Wet­land and the sur­round­ing 24 vil­lages. A popular hik­ing spot, Al-shouf Cedar is blan­keted with oak and ju­niper forests and home to 520 plant species, 250 bird species and 31 rep­tile and am­phib­ian species.

Ban­tael

A vil­lage in the heights of the Jord, Ban­tael Na­ture Re­serve has a rich cov­er­ing of oak and pine trees through which foxes wan­der and but­ter­flies flour­ish. The lo­cal com­mu­nity came to­gether in the ‘80s pi­o­neer­ing con­ser­va­tion, ded­i­cat­ing parts of their communal lands to the na­tion to be pro­tected as a na­ture re­serve.

Tan­nourine Na­ture Re­serve, Pho­tos cour­tesy of Roula Kous­saifi

Tyre Coast Na­ture Re­serve

Photo cour­tesy of Elsa Sat­tout

The Palm Is­lands Na­ture Re­serve

Am­miq

West Bekaa

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