Azraq Wetland Reserve — Visitors’ centre

Region

Asia

Country

Jordan

Flyway

Black sea-Mediterranean flyway

Initiative

WLI Asia-Oceania

About

Name of organisation

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature RSCN

Funding support

Tourism income Socioecononc projects, etc

Number of staff

36 employees

Number of visitors per year

25,000

Overall aims of the centre

Receiving all types of visitors. introducing the programs offered in the reserve, and raising environmental awareness among visitors.

Description of the centre

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature is an independent national organisation devoted to the conservation of Jordan's natural resources. RSCN was established in 1966 with His Majesty the late King Hussein as Honorary President. "RSCN will create, manage and advocate for a national network of protected areas to Jordan’s biodiversity and support local community development, while promoting wider public support and action for the protection of the natural environment within Jordan and neighbouring countries ' In 1978, RSCN established Azraq Wetland Reserve to conserve the uniquely precious oasis located in the heart of Jordan's eastern desert between a limestone desert the west and a basalt desert in the east. It has an area of 74 km2. It is distinguished by lush marshland and natural water collections that form glittering pools and streams, giving Azraq its name, which is the Arabic word for "blue". In 1977 the Ramsar Convention declared Azraq Oasis and the adjacent mudflat (Qa) as a major station for migratory birds on the African-Eurasian flyway. A variety of birds flock to the reserve each year, stopping for a short rest along their migration routes, staying for the winter, or breeding within the wetland. The Azraq wetland is the only oasis in the Arabian Desert with a self-replenishing system that has allowed it to sustain itself throughout the years. In 2018, the reserve joined the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas.
Unfortunately, the wetland suffered an environmental disaster because of abuse and overuse of water from the Azraq Basin. Due to excessive pumping of water from the oasis to large urban areas and the illegal drilling of artesian wells for agricultural purposes, water levels have steadily dropped over the course of 50 years starting to decrease in 1985 and reaching alarming rates in 1993. These high levels of water extraction resulted in the extreme depletion of this natural oasis, drying up massive areas of invaluable wetland equalling over 25 km2. In 1992 the main springs which were feeding the wetland had dried out and water level reached a depth of 12 meters below ground level. The water body that used to be a thriving ecological hotspot has dwindled alarmingly to cover 0.04 % of the area it used to cover in the past; the effects of which can be clearly seen in declining numbers of birds stopping over in Azraq wetland on their migratory route.
Before water pumping dramatically increased in the 1980s, the oasis provided a sparkling blue jewel In the desert attracting up to a million migrating birds at one time, as it marks one of the major bird migratory routes. At times, an upward glance at the Azraq sky would find it teeming with masses of birds, blocking out the light of day. By 1993, the extraction of water was so great that no surface water remained and the oasis's ecological value was virtually destroyed. With international support, RSCN began a rescue effort in 1994 and managed to restore a significant portion of the wetland, and aims to increase depleted water levels by 10 percent. So far, this target has not been achieved due to continued water pumping, lack of manpower, and a lack of experience in wetland management.
However, thanks to RSCN's efforts, many birds for which Azraq was once renowned for are coming back, and special boardwalks and bird hides have been constructed to enable visitors to observe and enjoy them.
Azraq Wetland Reserve is a location of rich biodiversity, containing Azraq Killifish Aphanius sirhani, the only true endemic vertebrate species of Jordan. In addition to two-thirds of the bird species records in Jordan, with 350 species of migratory and resident birds. There are also more than 133 species of plants, and there are more than 163 species of Invertebrates. 18 species of mammals, 11 species of reptiles, 15 species of dragonflies, and two types of amphibians.

Work Areas

Main CEPA work area

The reserve provides significant local benefits through traditional craft and produce marketing ecotourism for local companies and individuals, and through supporting traditional practices in a low-impact way such as salt-panning in the wider reserve buffer zone.

The Nature Knight Program is an innovative Environmental Education Program known as 'Nature Knight' (NK) which is considered to be a way of communication with students in order to have a greater influence in terms of reserves management challenges. The Jordanian Junior Ranger program, the NK, was founded by the RSCN and it has won various international awards. The program is divided into five cycles, with the vision statement ‘Children of the local communities around PAS will become crucial vanguards in the changing of community perceptions of the PAS and commitment to conservation’. The program's five learning cycles prepare the learner to be a specialist Nature Knight in one of the reserve's theme duties. The participant could select an area of interest, such as being a researcher (flora, fauna, bird watcher); a ranger; eco-tourism officer; or an education officer. This comprehensive program includes a unique curriculum as well as all of the tools/equipment required for field researchers to accomplish their ecological study. The program aims to influence students' attitudes about nature and the environment as a whole, with the objective of changing their behavior in favor of nature. Participants in the program are considered ambassadors for the RSCN's environmental preservation and conservation mission.
Establishing an advisory committee of stakeholders and decision-makers in Azraq.
'Experiential tourism', through which visitors can experience the customs and traditions of local communities and savour their cuisine. This type of tourism aims to extend visitors' stays and familiarize them with different customs and traditions, as well as develop local communities and engage them in the RSCN’s work.

Top three successes

Jordan’s Azraq Wetland Reserve Among 100 Best Sustainable Sites and best success story of the word
Joining greenlist of IUCN for best management practices, good governance, sound designing and good conservation outcomes.
Restoring 10% of the former oasis after total dryness.
Preserving the Azraq Killifish from extinction, which is the only vertebrate species endemic to the oasis

Top three challenges

  1. Water Scarcity in Jordan
  2. The reserve is close to residential communities such that it is vulnerable to hunting, arson, logging, and pollution.
  3. Funding reserve programs

Expertise

Interpretation techniques

Creating signage / site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails

Visitor centres

Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre; Building / maintaining structures

Participation

Working with disabled people; Engaging young people; Engaging the local community; Working with volunteers

Education and communication

Early years education; Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Lobbying / running campaigns; Working with secondary schools; Developing resources / materials

General

Health and safety; Fund-raising; Project planning.

Contact

 

Website: www.rscn.org.jo
Name: Fadi Naser
Address: Azraq
e-mail: fadinaser@rscn.org.jo adminrscn@rscn.org.jo

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