Within the Mediterranean only the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nest (Margaritoulis, 2003) with the green turtle population being so depleted from historic levels it is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red Lists (ERASG, 1996). Recent population reviews for loggerhead turtles (Margaritoulis et al 2003) and green turtles (Kasparek et al, 2001) indicated that little was known concerning the status of sea turtle populations in Syria.
In 2004, during beach surveying efforts for nesting turtles in Syria, a ‘major’ new green turtle population was discovered on the 12.5km beach south of Lattakia City (Rees et al, in press). Additionally it was learned that there are high levels of interactions between Syrian fisheries and marine turtles (Jony & Rees, in press; Rees et al, 2004).
Both nocturnal surveys during the nesting season and co-operative efforts with fishermen afforded the first opportunities to observe turtles in the wild, to obtain basic biometric data and tag the turtles before they returned to the sea after nesting or were released after being caught in fishing nets.



Joint Expedition to Tell Umm el-Marra, Syria

(Jabbul plain, looking south towards Jabbul salt lake)
Located east of Aleppo, a dominant urban center of northern Syria since Bronze Age times, the Jabbul plain controls an important east-west route linking Aleppo and the Mediterranean with Mesopotamia. Most of the plain receives enough precipitation for dry farming, but annual rainfall decreases from west to east, resulting in a dry, agriculturally marginal region in the eastern fringes of the Jabbul. Historically, this eastern zone is utilized by nomadic pastoralists tending herds of sheep and goat.
http //www.jhu.edu/neareast/uem/page9.html


The 4 Syrian Sites on the UNESCO's World Heritage List

o Ancient City of Damascus (1979)
o Ancient City of Bosra (1980)
o Site of Palmyra (1980)
o Ancient City of Aleppo (1986)

Old Damascus
Administrative District of Damascus
N33 30 41 E36 18 23
ref: 20
Brief Description
Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.

Governorate of Deraa
N32 31 05 E36 28 54
ref: 22
Brief Description
Bosra, once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, was an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca. A magnificent 2nd-century Roman theatre, early Christian ruins and several mosques are found within its great walls.

Brief DescriptionProvince of Homs
N34 33 15 E38 16 00
ref: 23
An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

Ancient City of Aleppo
Brief DescriptionAleppo
N36 11 58 E37 09 45
ref: 21
Located at the crossroads of several trade routes from the 2nd millennium B.C., Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans. The 13th-century citadel, 12th-century Great Mosque and various 17th-century madrasas, palaces, caravanserais and hammams all form part of the city's cohesive, unique urban fabric, now threatened by overpopulation.

Why visit Syria?

Syria is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and still relatively undiscovered by mass tourism. Landscape ranges from forests in the northwest to beaches on Syria's Mediterranean coast. Syria is often called "The cradle of civilizations" because there is no civilization in the east or west throughout the world history that didn't pass through Syria to leave a mark, but also to be deeply affected by Syria's long history.

It was here the first alphabets were invented that Greek and Roman culture helped to conquer over the world. It was here that civilization began over ten thousand years ago at Mereibet, Jeyround and Yabroud.

Old Aleppo city ©Muthafar Salim (Nature Iraq)
Due to its unique position at the point three continents meet each other Syria has been the focal point of ancient civilization. It was the crossroad between the Caspian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Black Sea, and the Nile River. For thousands of years Syria controlled the silk route which led from China to Doura Europos (Salhiyeh), from Palmyra and Homs to the Syrian ports on Mediterranean, where Syrian seafarers had ridden the wave in their enormous fleets with their famous white sails. Up to this day silk is an important industry in Syria. In Damascus, Hama and Aleppo the silk weavers still work at the same sort of wooden handlooms their ancestors used in Ebla four thousand years ago.

If you are interested in history and historical monuments, you cannot miss Syria. The country is literary packed with the ruins and monuments of almost all civilizations that passed through here. Today these ancient sites are still the most visited attractions.

There’s Qalaat Samaan were St Simeon sat on his 15 meter tall pillar for 36 years and preached to thousands of pilgrims that cam to visit this most holy man in the early middle ages.

There’s Palmyra, the ancient caravans stop between the Mediterranean world and the empires of the East - Mesopotamia, Persia and India. In the days of desert queen Zenobia it really was a cosmopolitan city, were east met west and exchanged exotics. It was here the gigantic temple of Baal rose up in the heart of the city. Now it’s a city in ruins, best known for the “Valley of Tombs”.

In the North you will find the big crusaders' castle Le Crac des Chevaliers and the cities of Aleppo and Hama. And, adjacent to the Turkish border close to Hatay, there’s the ruins of the “Dead Cities” Al Bara, Serdjilla, Qalbe Lbrse and Qirbirze. Piles of rock that were once houses palaces and churches lay abandoned on the vast desolated plains of the Idleb Province.

Fronlok protected area
All these things and the very pleasant population make a trip to Syria an unforgettable one.

Arwad Island

This is the only island in Syria, and it is located 3 kms from Tartus. It was an independent kingdom named Aradus in the days of Canaanites. It was often mentioned in inscriptions because of its importance in commerce and seafaring.
Arwad provided shelter for those escaping from foreign invasions in ancient times, especially for the people of Amrit in the south of Tartus.
Arwad is just off the coast of Tartous. There are many boats making the trip and it's a nice excursion to make. There is no need to look for accommodation on the island - it's easier found on the mainland.

There are two small castles on the island, a crusader fort from the 13 century and an arabic castel. There is also remains of a phoenician wall.You can roam around freely. Locals claim theirs castles was built by Alexander the great.


Principles of Sustainable Tourism

Some of the most important principles of sustainable tourism development include:
Tourism should be initiated with the help of broad-based community-inputs and the community should maintain control of tourism development.
Tourism should provide quality employment to its community residents and a linkage between the local businesses and tourism should be established.
A code of practice should be established for tourism at all levels - national, regional, and local - based on internationally accepted standards. Guidelines for tourism operations, impact assessment, monitoring of cumulative impacts, and limits to acceptable change should be established.
Education and training programmes to improve and manage heritage and natural resources should be established.
Source: Jamieson, Walter and Alix Noble, "A Manual for Sustainable Tourism Destination MAnagement" CUC-UEM Project, AIT, 2000

Top Ten Deserts to Explore

Sand patterns in the Arabian Desert (Corel)
Source: Gorp.com
Syrian and Arabian Deserts
By Ethan Gelber

Dominating the southwestern edge of the Asian continent, two deserts of distinctly different character are a formidable barrier between the Asian steppe and the Mediterranean. The Syrian Desert is an arid rocky wasteland covering northern Saudi Arabia, eastern Jordan, southern Syria, and western Iraq. Formed by lava flows, the rock and gravel steppe is utterly barren, but crossed today by oil pipelines. In the south, a nomad-inhabited desert mountainous region known as Al-Hammad gives way to the great Arabian Desert. Famous in film as an endless blur of sand and terra cotta—colored plains, black lava flows, and red-tinted dunes, the Arabian Desert is unmistakable. Although hard to discern and despite the endless sand-swirling winds, there is life in this desert. Only the Rub' al-Khali, Arabic for the "Empty Quarter," is truly deserted. The largest uninterrupted sand-covered spread on the earth and one of the driest regions in the world, the Rub' al-Khali occupies most of the central southern Arabian Peninsula. In 1948, Al-Ghawar, the world's largest oil field, was discovered here.


Photo Gallery of Syria

Sternbergia clusiana Endandered speices on CITES list

List of Natural Protected Areas of Syria

Name Area (Ha) Location Main Biodiversity Component
1. Cedar - Fir 1350 Lattakia Cedar-Abies Forest
2. Ferunluk 1500 Lattakia Oak-Pine Forest
3. Um Al-Toyour 1000 Lattakia Pine Forest + Marine
4. Ras Al- Bassit 3000 Lattakia Brutia Pine Forest
5. Abou Kobeis 11000 Hama Evergreen Forest
6. Al Sha’ara- East 1000 Tartous Evergreen Forest
7. Jabal Al–Bala’as 34365 Hama Degraded Pistacia atlantica Forest
8. Jabal Abdul Aziz 49000 Deir Al-Zour Degraded Pistacia atlantica Forest
9. Sabkhat Al-Jabboul 10000 Aleppo Wetland
10. Talila 22000 Homs Desert habitat
11. Al- Thawra 590 Rakka Wetland
12. Jabal Abou Rojmen 60,000 Homs Pisticia/Mountain
13. Damnet Al-Souida 653 Al-Souida Quercus Forest
14. Ra`as Ibn Hane 1000 Lattakia Marine Ecosystem
15. Al-Bassel Forest 2000 Edleb Forest
16. Damnet Al-Suaida 653 Al-Suaida Degraded Oak Forest
17. Jubbat Al-khashab 133 Al-Qunaitera Forest
18. Huwaijet Abu Hardoub 450 Dair Azzour Forest and wetlands
19. Huwaijet Ayaash Dair Azzour Forest and wetlands
20. Dair Atiya Damascus countryside Degraded lands
21. Dair Mar Mousa Damascus countryside Heritage site
22. Bald Ibis Homs Special Protected Area – Reproductive habitate
23. Al-Mouh Homs Wet lands

Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi

The old building from the north, and to the right the new men's building, constructed over caves that would have been occupied by monks in the medieval period.

Map showing location of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (contour map courtesy of Steven Batiuk)

Lunch on the terrace of the main building, 2005 (photo courtesy of Jovanna Scorsone)

Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (the monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian has stood at the eastern fringes of the Anti-Lebanon mountains since at least the sixth century. Thought to have been built on the remnants of a Roman watchtower, today it resembles a storybook castle perched on the edge of a steep precipice overlooking the Syrian desert.

The first reference to the foundation is in a manuscript dated 586CE that is now in the British Library in London. It is thought that by this time the community was already a thriving Laura in which the monks live in cave-hermitages and return to the monastery in order to pray together. The monastic buildings themselves provide evidence of occupation in subsequent periods. The church itself is typical of the basilical form of the 5th to 6th century, as are motifs carved into the stonework of the church. A period of prosperity in the 11th to 13th centuries is indicated by the renovation of the church in 1058 CE followed by no less than four different levels of frescoes, with the last bearing an inscription dating it to 1192 CE. However it is not until the 15th century CE that there are significant finds of ceramics to give a more thorough understanding of the continuity of occupation of the site, and even this is due to the abandonment of certain rooms, and so represents the beginning of the decline of the monastery. The monastery is certainly known to have been completely abandoned by 1831 CE.

The history of the refoundation of the monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi began in 1982, when a young Italian Jesuit called Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio was in the area on a retreat, during which he fell off of a cliff, almost dying. In 1984 he began restoration with the aid of volunteers from the local communities and from Europe. In 1991 he completed a Ph.D. in comparative religion and Islamic studies at the Gregoriana in Rome. Within the year he had begun the official foundation, with the monastery in occupation since that date, officially under the aegis of the Syrian Catholic church.

Today Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi is actively involved in a wide variety of ecumenical and environmental projects. Standing as it does at the end of a mountain valley leading to the desert, it is in a perfect location to engage with a variety of environmental organisations hoping to reverse the tide of desertification and encourage agro-biodiversity, and the community has been very active in promoting such endeavours. Wadi Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi, the catchment area of the valley itself, is on the verge of becoming a National Park, and the monastic community works in collaboration with the Ministry Commission of the National Park. The National Park will enable environmental and cultural concerns to be married with economic considerations by promoting eco-tourism.

All these projects are undertaken in full partnership not only with the Ministry Commission of the National Park, but also the local community. The monastery stresses the importance of both Muslims and Christians from the local society feeling that they have a relationship with the monastic community. Such an emphasis is due to the refoundation of the monastery in the 1980's being overtly intended to act as a focal point of ecumenical interfaith dialogue. The monastic community is exceptionally active in encouraging understanding between Christians and Muslims in a region where such understanding is essential to world peace.

Another important aspect of the present situation is the development of the Abraham route, an international initiative for eco-tourism and pilgrimage along a trail that runs from Harran in southeast Turkey, through Syria, and Jordan, to Hebron in Palestine. Both of these monastic sites will be a stations on this route.

My involvement with the monastery comprises an archaeological survey of the valley and region, with excavation at selected sites, including some of the caves occupied by the monks in the medieval period. An important aspect of the work of this project is the dissemination of, and interpretation of, information gathered about the long history of the Wadi Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi to the non-academic community. In particular, it is proposed to take seriously the obligations to the local and national communities in Syria and the Middle East at this important pilgrimage sites by constructing a museum. At Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi it will be necessary to create a building specially constructed for the purpose.

Robert B. J. Mason

Jabool village in Halab

Bediouns Art /khalil Akkari

from Khabour

Art /milad Al shayeb

Ecotourism: What can you do ?

Travel and tourism is a natural right of all people and is a crucial ingredient of world peace and understanding. With that right comes responsibilities, please whenever you travel, on business, pleasure or a bit of both, always bear in mind……
Ten Commandments of Eco Friendly Ethics
for Tourists and Travellers

(1) Respect the fragile earth - Always follow designated trails. Do not disturb animals, plants or their natural habitat. Remember, we have not inherited the earth from our ancestors, we just borrow it from our children.
(2) Leave only footprints - Take only photographs and memories. Leave no litter or graffiti.
(3) Respect the privacy and dignity of others - Enquire before photographing and/or video-recording people.
(4) Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and seeing.
(5) Cultivate the habit of asking questions rather than knowing all the answers.
(6) Discover the enrichment of seeing a different way of life through other eyes.
(7) Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn more about the people of your host country, their customs, history, culture, language and the natural environment.
(8) Do not make promises to people in your host country unless you can carry them through.
(9) Spend time reflecting on your daily experience in an attempt to deepen your understanding. It has been said that what enriches you may rob and violate others.
(10) If you are looking for an experience of 'home away from home' it is foolish to waste your money on travelling.

Important Bird Areas in Syria

Abu Zad : Site description An upland area at the southern end of the Jibal al-Sharqi (Anti-Lebanon) range, 50 km by road from Damascus, and centred on Abu Zad, a small village with small orchards and very small fields lying at 1,500 m above the resort village of Bludan. The nearby village of Halbun is at 1,700 m. To the west, vertical cliffs fall to Zabadani far below, and mountains to the north-east rise steeply to 2,462 m within c.10 km. The land above the village is open, with sparse grassland, scattered scrub and bare rock, and is snow-covered in winter.

Baath Lake: Site description A shallow, 10-km-long lake formed by a dam on the Euphrates (Al-Furat) at Mansurah, less than 10 km to the east of and below the main dam of Buhayrat al-Assad (Lake Assad) at Tabqa. The upper reaches are particularly shallow with a number of islands fringed by Phragmites reedbeds

Bahrat Homs: Site description A semi-artificial, eutrophic reservoir lying 15 km south-west of Homs and just west of Qattiné, formed by impoundment of the Nahr al-Asi (Orontes river). The banks of the north-eastern half are steep, while the very flat south-western shores, together with the influx of water from snow-melt in spring and subsequent evaporation during the summer, lead to the extent of open water varying from 3,000 ha in summer to 5,300 ha in winter; water depth is 4–8 m. There are some islands, but not suitable for breeding birds. The shores are generally bare mud, and the lake_s marginal and aquatic vegetation is very limited; bankside vegetation includes Tamarix, Salix, Nerium, Phragmites and Typha. The surroundings are very open, with no trees of any size but still generally green and verdant. To the south the land is fertile and cultivated, but to the north is a large area of lava flow. Villages are scattered around the lakeside; the main human activity is farming, though there is considerable fishing, plus large factories near Qattiné.

Buhayrat al-Assad :Site description Buhayrat al-Assad is a huge reservoir of more than 63,000 ha created by a dam on the River Euphrates (Al-Furat) near the town of Al-Thawra, and occupies c.80 km of the valley (north-west end at 3618´N 3810´E, south-east end at 3549´N 3828´E). The shores are mainly steep and rocky, and the water appears oligotrophic, being very clear and without sediment. Much of the surrounding area is dry, stony, and almost devoid of vegetation. However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform has recently afforested large areas on the southern shore and around Al-Thawra with Olea, Cupressus, eucalyptus and Amygdalus, including an offshore island (Jazirat al-_Ayd or Jazirat al-Thawra) which is being established as a nature park with a tourist centre and a network of vehicle tracks. The island is linked to the mainland by a causeway with a gate. Sugar-cane and cereals are cultivated in the south-east. The dam is used for hydro-electric power generation. Jabbar Castle is a historical site on the east side of the lake near the dam.

Buhayrat al-Khatuniyah: Site description A mesotrophic, spring-fed, natural lake (its area is variously quoted as being from 50 ha to c.800 ha) together with the surrounding _clay_ desert, c.50 km east of Al-Hasakah and between the small settlements of Khatuniyah and Al-Hul (6 km from the international border). The mean depth of the lake is or was 8 m, and the vegetation includes Tamarix. The lake is used for fishing, hunting and recreation, and the surrounding area for grazing.

Buhayrat al-Laha: Site description The only remaining natural coastal wetland, south of Hamidiyah and only c.2 km north of the Lebanese border. The coast is low and predominantly sandy, with some permanent rivers; settlements are few and small.

Jabal Abdul Aziz Site description A mountain range (up to 920 m) lying west of Al-Hasakah and running for c.50 km east–west. The southern slopes are gentle, but the northern slopes are a very steep, linear scarp with frequent cliffs. Numerous small wadis drain the slopes. The steppe vegetation includes Pistacia, Prunus and Rhamnus scrub, with extensive shrubs of Artemisia, Atriplex, Helianthemum and Teucrium. There is an extensive and ongoing afforestation project, planting Pistacia, Pinus brutia and P. halepensis

Euphrates valley: Site description The entire valley of the River Euphrates (Al-Furat), from its entry from Turkey at 3649´N 3802´E to its exit into Iraq at 3429´N 4056´E, apart from Buhayrat al-Assad (see site 007) and Baath Lake (see site 008). The valley lies 80–250 m below the surrounding plains, varying in width from 2 to 12 km. The river still flows in its original bed and is rich in islands, meanders, pools, oxbow lakes, alluvial cliffs, gravel pits and silted old water courses where the river has shifted, many of these being covered in Phragmites reedbeds. The water level used to flood 3–4 m higher in spring than in autumn, due to snow-melt in the Turkish uplands, but the completion during the last decade of several large dams in Turkey has now greatly reduced this annual flood. Natural vegetation includes riverine thickets of Populus euphratica, Tamarix, Salix and Typha. Intensive agriculture is carried out along its banks in _mazara_, vast areas of irrigated cotton and cereals with orchards and plantations of Populus and Pinus halepensis. The heavily cultivated steppe of the Jazirah region lies to the east and the Syrian Desert to the south-west. Gravel extraction occurs locally.

Jabal al-Bilas: Site description An isolated mountain (up to 1,105 m) lying c.70 km north-west of Tadmur (Palmyra). The landscape is eroded and the scant vegetation includes scattered trees/bushes of Pistacia, Prunus and Rhamnus, and shrubs of Artemisia, Atriplex, Salsola and Anabasis. There is some unspecified waterfowl habitat, presumably caused by winter flooding of depressions.

Jabal al-Bishri: Site description An isolated mountain in the semi-desert 80 km west of Dayr al-Zawr, rising to 851 m. There are occasional cliffs. The vegetation includes trees and bushes of Pistacia, Rhamnus, Prunus and Amygdalus, and is presumably a sparse steppe-woodland.

Jabal al-Shuah: Site description The eastern slope of the Jibal al-Nusayriyah range is a very steep scarp, lining the western edge of the Al-Ghab basin. A 1977 map based on surveys in the 1940s suggests that c.20,000 ha of woodland existed along the scarp at that time. The current extent of woodland is unknown but is still likely to be sizeable, since the steep slopes have presumably inhibited clearance for agriculture or other uses. The woodland is dominated by Abies cilicica, with Carpinus orientalis and Ostrya carpinifolia.

Jabal Sis: Site description A huge, extinct volcanic crater, the largest of many within a huge basalt lava field which covers much of southern Syria and northern Jordan. Jabal Sis (Sies) lies near the eastern edge of the basalt, 100 km east-south-east of Damascus and 55 km south of the main road running east from Damascus to Iraq. The volcano rises about 100 m above the surrounding plain. Spring rain lies in small lakes and pools in scattered pans of impermeable clay, and there is a rain-fed lake at the foot of Jabal Sis itself. Vegetation is sparse. The terrain is impassable to vehicles except along tracks, of which there are few. Nomadic pastoralists graze large flocks in the area in spring and early summer.

Jabal Slenfeh: Site description A relatively well-wooded mountain area, centred on the village of Slenfeh c.20 km north-east of Al-Ladhiqiyah (Lattakia), on the western slopes of the Jibal al-Nusayriyah range. The woodland is dominated by Abies and Cedrus. The area is generally densely populated with small settlements.

Ras al-Ayn: Site description A vast area of steppe around the border settlement of Ras al-Ayn, through which the seasonal Khabur river flows in winter and spring, north-west of Al-Hasakah. Much of the steppe along the Khabur valley is now under irrigated cultivation of wheat and cotton. Trees and scrub occur along the Khabur river, especially at Ras al-Ayn where there is a patch of c.100 ha of dense Salix bushes, fed by a very powerful, sulphurous hot spring.

Sabkhat al-Jabbul :Site description A large, shallow salt-lake in a closed basin of c.37,500 ha, lying just south of Jabbul village, 35 km east-south-east of Halab (Aleppo). In the 1970s the lake was filled entirely by local run-off of winter/spring rainfall and its extent was highly variable from year to year, reaching a maximum of c.3,000 ha and with at least a little standing water at most times of the year. A levée built on the east side by the 1970s prevented flooding of the majority of the salt-flat in the east of the basin. However, in 1988 large, new irrigation projects on the nearby steppe started discharging surplus water into the lake on a substantial scale; it is not known how saline the inflow is nor whether it is seasonal or perennial. This appears to have led to a higher and more stable water level than in the past, since the lake currently measures up to 20 km long and 5 km wide (c.10,000 ha), and although in the 1970s the flat and sandy banks had little or no marginal vegetation, they are now locally lined by extensive Phragmites reedbeds, on the southern and south-eastern shores at least. At least two large islands are created at times of high flooding. Around the lake shore there is turf, close-cropped by sheep. The surrounding steppe has a sparse shrubland of Haloxylon and Artemisia. Primary uses of the area are salt extraction, wildfowl hunting, and livestock grazing on the surrounding steppe by nomadic pastoralists; in the 1970s the sabkhah to the east was an artillery firing range.

Tadmur and Sabkhat Muh :Site description An area of steppe-desert around Tadmur in the centre of Syria, 150 km east of Homs, in a closed basin (c.70  35 km), surrounded by limestone and marl hills. There is an isolated oasis to the south of the town with extensive date-palm gardens, and Sabkhat Muh, a seasonally flooded salt-lake up to c.20 km long, lies to the south of the oasis. There are some scattered Tamarix trees around its fringe, and the steppe-desert surrounds are sparsely vegetated with perennial tussock-grass, Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia. The T-3 pumping station (3431´N 3845´E), 40 km east of Tadmur on the Iraq–Lebanon oil pipeline, is a small, man-made oasis with a plantation of mature Eucalyptus (c.2 ha), a garden and a sewage pond (c.0.5 ha). The main land-use is grazing livestock. The area is famous for its Roman ruins.

Tual al-’Abba: Site description An extensive area of steppe to the west of Jabal Abdul Aziz and to the east and south-east of Skiro village (3625´N 3905´E), bounded by the Balikh valley to the west. In the 1960s there were seasonally inundated fresh and saline marshes in the Balikh valley, e.g. at Ali Bajiliyah, c.100 km north of Al-Raqqah. In the 1970s, there were extensive reedbeds and some open water at Skiro, and about 10 km north along the road from Skiro on the western side was Al-Sharkrak pond (c.1 ha). In the early 1980s there was an area of small permanent lakes (c.50 ha) called Waz Göl (3631´N 3901´E), fed by springs at Ayn al-Arus. Vegetation here, and probably elsewhere in the valley, consisted of Salix trees/bushes and stands of Phragmites, Lythrum, Carex and Luzula. However by 1992 (and perhaps as early as 1984) the lakes, springs, and river itself were all dry due to major and unsustainable water abstraction from the Balikh river for irrigation in Turkey and Syria. The continued existence of other wetland areas in the valley, of which the above are only representative examples, is thus in doubt. The majority of the steppe is cultivated with cereals and cotton and otherwise very heavily grazed by livestock; crop failures are common during droughts.

Umm al-Tuyyur: Site description A 12-km stretch of mainly rocky coast c.30 km north-north-east of Al-Ladhiqiyah (Lattakia) on the road to Al-Basit, extending north from the sheer limestone cliffs of Jabal Tarnajah (Ras al-Janzir) to the rocky headland of Ras al-Basit. There are 2 km of sand beach with seagrass beds offshore, and the 10-km-deep hinterland comprises well-wooded hills and narrow river valleys and plains. The area itself is also well-wooded, with coastal slopes covered in garigue, and there are a number of small, dammed lakes, including Ballouran Dam (25 ha). About 2,000 people live in and around Umm al-Tuyyur village, which is surrounded by a cultivated plain. Some fishing occurs offshore.

Wadi al-Azib :Site description A stony, semi-desert plain, c.120 km east of Hamah. Vegetation includes sparse Pistacia trees and shrub-steppe with Salsola, Atriplex and Artemisia. There is said to be a north-south trending depression at 3522´N 3800´E which floods in some winters (extent of water up to c.1,000 ha); although this could not be found on maps, there is an area of sabkhah basins (totalling c.5,000 ha) centred on 3540´N 3730´E. There are many small settlements and wells, and cultivation is probably extensive.

Wadi al-Qarn—Burqush: Site description The main Damascus–Beirut road runs through Wadi al-Qarn (Karn) which runs south-east from the frontier post at Jdeideh (1,275 m). The area of interest in this wadi is the steep hillside above the road on the northern side of the wadi, along the last 1–2 km at the north-west end just before the valley opens out to the area of the frontier post, and includes the small Zarzer reservoir at the lower end (1,175 m) of the wadi 6 km from Jdeideh. The upper reaches are vertical cliffs, below which are rocky slopes with grass, scrub and stunted trees. The area is used for recreation in summer, and people fish at the reservoir. Burqush is an upland site on the slopes of Jabal al-Shaykh (Mount Hermon), 10 km north-west of Qatana, with similar habitat. The area is very close to the steep mountains of Maloula, where there are Christian monasteries.

Wadi al-Radd: Site description A steppic basin in the Jazirah, 60 km long by 10 km wide, near Al-Qamishli and a few kilometres north of the border with Iraq. Numerous small drainage lines descend from Jabal Sinjar in Iraq and from the Turkish mountains to the north. The basin used to flood in winter and spring, the extent depending on the season_s rain and snowfall. By December 1971 the area had been converted to intensive cultivation (wheat and cotton), and there was no standing water apparent in that year, but even in the 1990s smaller parts of the original area are considered still liable to winter flooding.

Yarmuk valley Site description The Yarmuk river runs along part of the Syria–Jordan frontier, at the southern end of the Golan Heights, and is joined by other streams in this region, e.g. near Heite by the Nahr al-Allan running from the north and by Wadi al-Thahab from the east. The watercourses lie in steep, narrow wadis cutting through a plateau with well-watered farmland (cereals), and though the sides of the valleys are barren the bottoms are full of lush vegetation including Phragmites reedbeds and oleander Nerium. The lower valleys are below sea-level. There are a few houses by the river below Heite. Lake Muzayrib (3242´N 3601´E, 2 ha) lies in a shallow depression on the plateau (Wadi al-Thahab), just west of Al-Muzayrib village and c.12 km north-west of Dar_a: a natural, spring-fed, mesotrophic lake of 2.5 m mean depth, with banks of grazed turf and at least one reedbed Phragmites. The lake is much used for irrigation, fishing, fish-farming and recreation (picnicing, etc.), and is surrounded by agriculture and many houses.

Tourists on the way to Deir Mar Mousa

Al-fronloq forest in Latakia

Abies cilicica in Cedar and Fir Reserve in Latakia.


children at Homs lake

Ornithologists “hit jackpot” on sightings of Critically Endangered bird

Mahmoud Sheish Abdallah
The Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius discovery was made in the short grasslands of Northern Syria

Damascus, Syria: A small expedition team travelling across Syria today announced the discovery of the largest wintering population of one of Eurasia’s most endangered birds, the Sociable Lapwing. [1]

Previous estimates placed the global population of this Critically Endangered species at between 400 and 1500 individuals. However the expedition team reported seeing over 1200 birds in one day and over 1500 in total during the trip, all within a few grassland sites in Northern Syria.

The finding gives tremendous encouragement to conservationists working to save the bird across Central Asia (where it is a summer resident) and the Middle East (where the bird winters).

“It’s a finding that every ornithologist dreams of when starting out on an expedition like this.” said Remco Hofland, a Dutch ornithologist who led the Syrian Sociable Lapwing Team, made up of Dutch and Syrian birdwatchers. “We had spent the morning looking at a number of areas that were yielding good numbers of the species; almost 400. We were delighted - here we were looking at one of the rarest birds on Earth, and in such good numbers!”

“It was after these that we looked at one more area, which turned out to be the jackpot. Our team split into two and we saw 838 Sociable Lapwings, of which 700 were from a single vantage point.” Remco said.

Koshkin Maxim
Sociable Lapwing: less than 1500 were thought to exist before today's announcement
Zoom In | Hi-Res
“It’s an incredible discovery, which gives real encouragement to global conservation efforts to save this Critically Endangered species,” —Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator, BirdLife International

“It’s an incredible discovery, which gives real encouragement to global conservation efforts to save this Critically Endangered species,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator at BirdLife International. “Site protection is the crucial next step though: species that rely on a few small sites are particularly vulnerable to change – if this site isn’t adequately protected then the continued survival of Sociable Lapwing remains uncertain.”

The two major causes of biodiversity loss in the Syrian desert are illegal hunting and habitat degradation – both of which are thought to pose a threat to Sociable Lapwing in the region. Conservationists in the Middle East are now working urgently to ensure that the wintering population can be afforded immediate protection from these twin threats. [2]

“In order to safeguard this newly-discovered wintering population of Sociable Lapwing we have had to act quickly, working with local government agencies and the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife to help secure the site and its vitally important bird populations,” said Sharif Jbour of BirdLife Middle East, who are among those coordinating actions in the region.

The expedition by the Syrian Sociable Lapwing Team was partly funded via a number of organisations: the RSPB (through a grant from the UK government's Darwin Initiative), the Ornithological Society of the Middle East and the Dutch Van Tienhoven Foundation.



For further information and photos:

UK & International: Jules Howard, Communications Officer, BirdLife International. Tel: +44 (0)1223 279809; Mobile: +44 (0)7971069098; email: jules.howard@birdlife.org


[1] Globally, the Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius has suffered a very rapid population decline – halving between 1960 and 1987. In recent years these declines are thought to have worsened, resulting in its Critically Endangered status.

[2] Conservationists are also working with the Syrian government to protect a colony of rare northern bald ibis which breed in Palmyra each year. Yesterday, it was announced that two bald ibis, fitted with satellite tags last year, have returned to Palmyra. Scientists will step up their protection using data from the tracking devices.

Giant camel fossil found in Syria

Archaeologists have discovered the 100,000-year-old fossilised remains of a previously unknown giant camel species in Syria.
The bones of the dromedary were unearthed by a Swiss-Syrian team of researchers near the village of El Kowm in the central part of the country.

The animal is thought to have been double the size of a modern-day camel.

It may even have been killed by humans, who were living at the once water-rich site during the same period.

Jean-Marie Le Tensorer of the University of Basel commented: "It was not known that the dromedary was present in the Middle East more than 10,000 years ago.

"The camel's shoulders stood three metres high and it was around four metres tall; as big as a giraffe or an elephant. Nobody knew that such a species had existed," he said.

Kingsize camels

Professor Le Tensorer, who has been excavating at the desert site in Kowm since 1999, said the first large bones were found some years ago but were only confirmed as belonging to a camel after more bones from several parts of the same animal were recently discovered.

Between 2005 and 2006, more than 40 bone fragments of giant camels were found by the team.
The big species has been found as far back as 150,000 years ago. But fossils from other species of camel have been unearthed at the site dating to one million years ago.

Human remains from the same period as the giant camel have also been discovered at the site. The radius (forearm) and tooth have been taken to Switzerland, where they are undergoing anthropological analysis.

"The bone is that of a Homo sapiens , or modern man, but the tooth is extremely archaic, similar to that of a Neanderthal. We don't know yet what it is exactly. Do we have a very old Homo sapiens or a Neanderthal?" said Professor Le Tensorer.
"We expect to find more bones that would help determine what kind of man it was."

El Kowm, the site where the remains were discovered along with flint and stone weapons, is a 20km-wide (14 miles) gap between two mountain ranges with natural springs.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/10/10 10:00:11 GMT



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Northern bald ibis in Syria


Located in the Middle East, Syria borders the Mediterranean Sea, between Turkey and Lebanon. The terrain is mostly semiarid and desert with a narrow coastal plain and mountains in the west. Syria's climate is hot and dry with sunny summers and mild and rainy winters along the coast.


Ecological tourism, (ecotourism), is a form of tourism which aims to be both ecologically and socially conscious.

Generally speaking, ecotourism focuses on local culture, wilderness adventures, volunteering, personal growth and learning new ways to live on the planet; typically involving travel to destinations where the flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions.