Exploring the country's natural reserves
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.
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.
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.
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.
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