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Egypt covers an area of about one million square kilometers and can be divided into four physiographic regions: the Nile Valley, Western Desert, Eastern Desert and Sinai. The arid desert covers 92% of the land, the remaining 8% of arable land being restricted to the Nile Valley, the Nile Delta and a few oases scattered in the Western Desert. The population is very unevenly distributed: 99% of Egyptians live on less than 4% of the land. With its unique geographic location midway between Africa and Asia, Egypt is home to a wide variety of ecosystems and terrestrial and aquatic life. Many plant and animal species in Egypt represent tropical and Mediterranean environments, some of which go back millions of years. Egypt has unique biodiversity that contributes to the economy and supports human wellbeing.

Phytochoria in North Africa and Southwest Asia
Biodiversity also provides regulating and supporting services. The protection of Red Sea coastal areas from erosion by coral reefs and mangroves was valued at 80 million EGP per km2 and the yearly loss of Egyptian economy resulting from pollinator numbers decline due to the use of pesticides was estimated at 13.5 billion EGP.
Despite these obvious economic gains from biodiversity, trends from available indicators suggest that the state of biodiversity is declining and the pressures upon it are increasing, despite the many national efforts taken to conserve biodiversity and use it sustainably. Biodiversity in Egypt is deteriorating at the level of ecosystems, species and populations; and, genetic diversity is also declining. The losses are due to a range of threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution, invasive species and climate change. Limited human and financial resources have also contributed to the loss of biodiversity. These pressures are continuing to increase and are themselves driven by a range of socio-economic drivers, mainly the growing population and limited human and financial resources. Climate change will act synergistically with other threats with serious consequences for biodiversity.
Direct habitat loss is a major threat to terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems; and, freshwater ecosystems are particularly severely affected by fragmentation. Land reclamation, urbanization and industrial activities destroy and alter critical natural habitats along with their plant and animal life.
Overgrazing and over-fishing contribute to biodiversity degradation. Wildlife utilization is, for the most part, unregulated in Egypt and excessive hunting is endangering a number of wild animals as well as several species of resident and migratory birds. Major exploited groups include medicinal plants, mammals for wild meat and recreational hunting, birds for food and the pet trade, and amphibians for traditional medicine and food.
Pollution causes deterioration of critical habitats and species loss. A concrete example is the Delta wetlands. Excessive use and misapplication of pesticides also causes loss of rare species including those that act as pollinators and natural biological control agents.
Invasive species continue to be a major threat to all types of ecosystems and species in Egypt. Currently available information about invasive species in Egypt is still insufficient or is not readily available. Exerted efforts to control and eradicate existing invasive species and to prevent the introduction of new ones still limited in spite of the fact that invasive species represent real threat to Egyptian ecosystems, the economy and human health. Combating invasive species is beyond the country’s current potential in terms of human, financial and technical resources, and requires participation of all concerned agencies.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate many of the risks associated with above mentioned stressors and reducing the choices open to individuals and policy makers. Systematic quantitative assessments are needed to determine how changes in biodiversity would impact the provision of ecosystem services, or how the production of ecosystem services has impacted on biodiversity.
Species diversity is also in decline and continues to be threatened by the same threats observed on the ecosystem level: habitat destruction, unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution, invasive species and overexploitation. Few of Egypt’s described taxonomic groups or species have been assessed to determine their conservation status. The distribution of threatened species in freshwater habitats in Egypt is poorly known, but regional assessments from the Mediterranean Basin indicate that freshwater species are, in general, at much greater risk of extinction than terrestrial taxa (Smith and Darwall, 2006 and Stein et al., 2000).
By the end of 2013, 364 species of the over 22,000 species described in Egypt had been assessed and the conservation status of only the following taxonomic groups is available: mammals (111 species), insects (mainly butterflies: 63 species and Odonata: 40 species), four plant families (Apocyanaceae: 22 species, Euphorbiaceae: 51 species, Primulaceae: 9 species and Amaranthaceae: 25 species) and birds (43 species), which indicate a continuing increase in the risk of extinction. Major efforts are needed to assess taxonomic groups or species that have not been assessed to determine their conservation status including crop genetic diversity and animal genetic resources.
Of the assessed 364 species, 41 % (152 species) are considered threatened with extinction, although this varies among taxonomic groups. Among selected mammals, insects and plant groups, between 70% and 25% of species are currently threatened with extinction, with the Euphorbiaceae plant family facing the greatest risk.
On the other hand, the rate of loss of ecosystems and genetic diversity is poorly known and exerted efforts are still limited, but a good example of the loss of genetic diversity in Egypt is that of cotton, having lost its varieties greatly onwards from the 1950s. Genetic diversity is being lost in natural ecosystems and in systems of crop and livestock production due partly to the intensification of production, and also partly to the abandonment rural areas for larger cities and urban areas. The continued loss of genetic diversity of such crops and livestock may have major implications on food security. Currently, Egypt depends on four crops (wheat, corn, rice and potato) for 50% of its vegetarian food and 14 mammal and bird species for 90% of animal proteins.
National responses to the continuing loss of biodiversity are varied and threats to biodiversity are addressed through a number of activities with varied degrees of success. Some of the most significant with varied degrees of success are achieved in support of the implementation of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, relevant International and Regional Agreements and Strategies for Cooperation, national legislation, institutional support and capacity building to protect biodiversity, protected area based conservation, ex-situ based conservation (breeding, propagation and rehabilitation), managing invasive species, managing wildlife trade and use, sustainable agriculture, local community empowerment, regulating access and benefit sharing of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, recognizing the value of cultural diversity and traditional knowledge, managing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity through mitigation and adaptation, communication, education and public awareness.
Egypt had prepared a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) in 1998 spanning the years 1998 to 2017 through a consultative process. The NBSAP 1998-2017 had six main goals and a national action plan composed of 11 programmes categorized into enabling and supporting, applied research and monitoring projects.
Progress towards implementing of the main goals and programmes of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 1998-2017 and the CBD 2010 Targets is mixed, with significant progress in a number of areas (e.g. those related to PA establishment and management and the NCS/EEAA capacity development), and limited progress in many others (notably the introduction of biodiversity concerns and priorities into the mainstream of the Egyptian socio-economic landscape). Most significant results are achieved in the development of legislation that regulates many aspects of biodiversity conservation, establishment and development of PAs network, establishment of the NCS as the institutional structure responsible for the coordination of implementing the nation’s biodiversity agenda in general, PAs management and raising public awareness in particular. The implementation of the Convention and the NBSAP has shed light on some valuable insights for Egypt. The role of biodiversity in the supply of ecosystem goods and services is gaining recognition in Egypt although identifying economic values of biodiversity goods and services is relatively new.
Protected areas have been Egypt’s most important and effective tool to conserve its biodiversity, preventing the potential loss of species and habitats, as well as fulfilling its international commitments. By the year 2013, Egypt had established 30 protected areas, covering over 146,000 km2 or about 14.6 % of the total surface area. However, the coverage did not meet the CBD 2020 Aichi target (Aichi Target 11: “at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas”). In spite of numerous efforts made in the establishment of the protected areas network, critical problems and risks still exist, including the inability to retain trained staff, under-funding and lost opportunities to generate substantial revenues. The performance of protected areas in maintaining populations of their key species is poorly documented. There is a need to assess the completeness of coverage and status of the existing protected area network and identify additional sites which make important contributions towards the comprehensiveness and proportional representatives of the PAs network.
Outside protected areas, limited complementary ex-situ conservation measures were undertaken for genetic resources for food and agriculture and for selected animal and plant species. Limited efforts have also been undertaken to rehabilitate some endemic flora and fauna species to increase their numbers in their natural habitats to protect them from extinction. Sustainable agriculture has been garnering more attention lately.
The absence of legal and administrative mechanisms to implement the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is a key constraint towards the safe transfer, use and transboundary movement of GMOs. It is hoped that the draft national biosafety law will be soon approved by the Egyptian Government.
Some of the major factors affecting Egypt’s implementation of the NBSAP and achieving CBD global targets include the lack of financial and human resources, inadequate coordination between government agencies, lax enforcement of environmental laws and policies and the insufficient mainstreaming of biodiversity into other sectors. There is still limited evidence of biodiversity concerns being reflected in a serious way in the policies, legislation and regulations governing most of the productive sectors in the country, and it is not reflected in the nation’s development agenda in many significant ways.
In the light of Egypt’s commitment to achieve the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, several national committees were established (sustainable development, integrated management of coastal zones, climate change, wetlands and conservation of biodiversity) to achieve harmonization between policies, strategies and national action plans of development, by executing specific indicators to determine implementation efficiency in different fields, such as environmental sustainability, reduction of poverty pressure, enabling women, improving the quality of health and education. Egypt prepared many strategies and specialized programs addressing the conservation of wetlands in 2005, ecotourism in 2006 and medicinal plants conservation in 2007. The eight MDGs are integrated in the National Development Plan 2008-2011 under the different key areas. This shows the government’s commitment to achieving the MDGs.
In conclusion, despite a significant increase in conservation efforts and expenditures (as clearly indicated by the expansion of the PA network and the substantial investment in biodiversity focused projects in Egypt), trends of biodiversity status in Egypt are in a down turn and are not meeting the CBD 2010 global targets. Successes have been mainly in short and medium term achievements, with limited impact on policy level processes and root causes (despite multiple efforts), particularly those outside the environmental realm and in the mainstream economic sectors. Many of the policies and plans have not been finalized and/or implemented due to lack of both financial and human resources. Government’s fiscal difficulties over the last few years have impacted significantly on resource availability. There are several areas that need improvement and effectiveness, particularly in regards to coordination and cooperation between government agencies; the mainstreaming of biodiversity; wetland, coastal, marine and arid land biodiversity management; invasive alien species; biosafety; and access and benefit sharing. Without enforcing environmental regulations in regard to land use and new development activities to save the natural habitat and preserve the monuments of Egypt, loss of biodiversity and nature-derived benefits will continue decline.

Biodiversity Profile of Egypt
Egypt is uniquely positioned midway between Africa and Asia, with its long coasts of the Mediterranean Sea in the north (c. 970 km) and the Red Sea in the east (c. 1,100 km). The county covers an area of about one million square kilometers and can be divided into four physiographic regions: the Nile Valley and Nile Delta, Western Desert, Eastern Desert, and Sinai. The country can also be divided into 4 bioclimatic zones: the eastern desert, which is hyper arid with mild winters, hot summers and extremely rare rainfall; the southern Sinai region which is also hyper arid but has cool winters, hot summers, and less than 30 mm/year of rainfall; the coastal belt along the Mediterranean Sea; and the sub-coastal belt and the wetlands (Nile Valley, Nile Delta).

Egypt is the meeting point of biotic elements belonging to four bio-geographical regions: i) the Mediterranean-Sahara regional transition zone (MS-XVIII), which occupies a small area along the Mediterranean coast; ii) the Sahara- Sindian regional zone (SS-XVII), which encompasses the vast desert occupying the greater part of Egypt; iii) the Irano-Turanian regional center of endemism (IT), which occupies a small area in the Sinai highlands and some enclave areas in the Eastern Desert (e.g. Galala Mountains); and iv) the Sahel regional transition zone (Sa-XVI), which comprises the Afrotropical Gebel Elba mountainous region in the southeast of Egypt (Figure ‎2 1).
The arid desert covers 92% of the country’s surface area, with the remaining 8% of arable land being restricted to the Nile Valley, the Nile Delta and a few oases scattered in the Western Desert. Given the country’s physiography, Egypt’s population is unevenly distributed, where 99% of Egyptians live on less than 4% of the land.
Egypt has a rich and diverse biota. The country is home to a wide range of habitats with microclimates (e.g. mangroves, coral reefs, mountains, sand dunes, oasis, and wadis) that host many plant and animal species and communities representing both tropical and Mediterranean environments. Some dating back millions of years ago, such as the skeletons of whales in the Western Desert (a Natural World Heritage Site in Wadi Al-Rayan Protected Area), while other sites represent the Stone Age, about 10,000 years ago. Some animal and plant species represent relicts of a once flourishing growth in ancient periods when the environment was less severe. As conditions became decidedly arid, a limited number of these species remained in the natural refugee sites. For example, small populations of gymnospermus trees of Juniperus phoenicea still exist in a few hilly sites in N. Sinai (e.g. Gebel El-Maghara, Yelleg, Labni and El-Halal). Similarly, a few individual cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) can be found in the Qattara Depression of the Western Desert, but they are on the brink of extinction.
In terms of terrestrial habitats, Egypt can be classified into only two of the major habitats of Africa; desert and riverine vegetation (albeit greatly modified by man). Therefore, terrestrial habitat diversity is low overall. Habitats with the greatest floral and faunal species diversity, or informally “the biodiversity hot spots” of Egypt, are roughly the mountains of South Sinai, the Gebel Elba region, and the Mediterranean littoral and coastal desert west of Alexandria. The fog deposition in Gebel Elba produces the only Egyptian example of an officially WWF endangered habitat, a Red Sea Fog Woodland. In addition, the Nile River itself and the Delta lakes support a considerable number of species.
Marine and coastal habitats are confined to the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Marine biodiversity in Egypt benefits from having two completely independent elements, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Its Mediterranean fauna and flora are modest and shared with most of the countries of that region. Its very rich Red Sea equivalents are also probably shared with most of the countries bordering the Red Sea. Endemics are largely or wholly limited to Red Sea habitats, where Egypt has the most northerly coral and mangrove habitats of the world – possibly rendering them more important as climate changes occur. The shallow waters of the Suez Gulf are important areas for marine biodiversity and the contrast with the abyssal depths of the Gulf of Aqaba create a very important set of habitats.
Each of these habitats has its unique fauna and flora and more than 22,000 species of flora and fauna have been identified in Egypt’s diverse ecosystems and many more remain to be further investigated. These range from well known-species of plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds to less visible but equally important aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, fungi and bacteria. Levels of endemicity are reasonably high as a result of the drying of North Africa over the last 5,000 years, which caused the fragmentation and isolation of fauna and flora, allowing the evolution of many unique forms of life. Isolated pockets of biodiversity exist in the oases of the Western Desert and on the mountaintops of Sinai. The relatively rich biodiversity of Gebel Elba harbors many endemic forms, however, more research is required to assess their uniqueness relative to other Red Sea fog woodlands further south in the Sudan.
Despite being dominated by desert and drought, Egypt comprises over 2,145 species and 220 infra-specific taxa of native and naturalized vascular plants, in addition to 175 species and subspecies of mosses and 13 of hepatics, 111 mammals (40 threatened with extinction), 480 birds (26 threatened with extinction), 109 reptiles (27 threatened with extinction), 9 amphibians, more than 1,000 fish species, 800 Mollusca, 1,000 Crustacean, more than 325 species of coral reefs, 10,000 – 15,000 species of insects (including 63 butterflies), 2,420 species of fungi, in addition to thousands of algae, bacteria and viruses. A significant part of these species are found in nationally designated protected areas (Abdel-Azeem and Salem, 2013; Shaltout and Eid, 2010).
Substantial part of this diversity is confined to wetter regions, namely the Mediterranean, Sinai Peninsula and Gebel Elba. The Western Desert holds the lowest plant diversity in Egypt (El Hadidi and Hosni, 1996 and Boulos, 1999-2005). The flora and fauna of Egypt is well documented in many reference books, theses, scientific papers and reports since the mid of the 20th Century. However, there is no checklist for the algal and agricultural flora in Egypt. However, as a rough estimate, the algal diversity approximates 1,500 species; while the agrobiodiversity approximates 2100 species in addition to ca 1000 species of ornamental cultivated species. Therefore, it must be a priority to concentrate future studies on algal and agrobiodiversity in order to prepare accessible verified check lists for both groups of plants.
Despite relatively well documented biodiversity, to date, there are still no concrete statistics quantifying the rate of biodiversity loss in Egypt.

Importance of Biodiversity to National Socio-economic Development
Biodiversity is essential for healthy ecosystems, human health, prosperity, security and wellbeing. Identifying economic values of biodiversity in terms of the goods and services that it provides is relatively new and slowly gaining recognition in Egypt. Since ancient times, Egypt has relied on the wealth of its natural resources to sustain its civilization. Contributions of biodiversity to the national economy are substantial. Much of the country’s economy is built on a natural resource base. Biodiversity forms the basis of agriculture, fisheries and enables the production of foods, both wild and cultivated, which contributes to the overall well-being of Egyptian people. In addition, biodiversity supports the development of many new industries (e.g. nature-based tourism and recreational activities), which provide high economic returns on national, regional and local scales. Genetic resources have enabled past and current crop and livestock improvements, enabling them to adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as climate change.

A significant portion of Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is directly linked to the use of biological resources. In 2012, total agriculture production accounted for 13.2% of Egypt’s GDP (81.3 billion Egyptian pounds) and employed 32% of the total work force (more than 6 million jobs in agriculture and fisheries) (1 USD = 5.95 Egyptian pounds). Agricultural exports constitute about 20% of total export activities (African Development Bank, 2012).
The aquatic resource base in Egypt is extensive. It consists of marine, fresh water, and brackish water. Marine resources come mainly from the Mediterranean and Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Great Bitter Lakes. Fresh water resources include the Nile River with its canals and Lake Nasser in Upper Egypt. Brackish water resources include lakes Manzala, Burullus, Edku, and Maryout, the Bardawil and Port Fouad lagoons located to the East of the Delta. Furthermore, brackish water resources include three important drainage basins that are present in the Fayoum Region, namely Lake Qaroun and Wadi El-Ryan Depressions (I) and (III) and various smaller lakes that are scattered around the country plus fish farms.
Fish Production by Source
Fisheries provide a major source of food, revenues and employment. Egyptian total fish production in 2001 from all sources totaled 771,515 tons. The marine fisheries produced a total of 133,173 tons (17.26 %), the northern four brackish water lakes produced a total of 144,710 tons (18.75 %), the coastal lagoons 3,308 tons (0.4%), inland lakes 35,854 tons (4.65 %), the Nile River system with its canals 111,606 tons (14.47 %) and fish culture employing various systems, a total of 342,864 tons (44.43 %) as shown in figure. In cumulative terms, capture fisheries in 2001 produced a total of 428,651 tons or 55.6 % of the total, while aquaculture contributed the balance of 342,864 tons.
According to the annual report issued by the General Authority for Development of Fish Resources (GAFRD, 2012; Rothuis et al., 2013), fish production in 2010 amounted to 971,000 tons of which fish farming contributed 61% and natural resources (Nile River, Red Sea, and Mediterranean) 38% of total fish production.
Fish Production in 1993 and 2009
In 2011 over 1.3 million tons, having a value of 18 billion Egyptian pounds, were produced from marine and inland capture fisheries and brackish and freshwater aquacultures. Of these, the natural resources (Nile River, Red Sea, and Mediterranean) provided 375,354 tons (18.5% of total production) of which marine fish production amounted to 122,303 tons (12.5% from total production) and the aquaculture sector produced 986,820 tons (81.5% of total production) with a total production value of approximately US $ 2 billion or just below 1% of the GDP. In addition, fish hatcheries produced more than 270 million fish fries (sea bream, sea bass, soles, shrimps, tilapias and carp) that are used in developing fish production in some lakes and fish cultures. Fish production in Egypt by sector in 1993 and 2009 is shown Figure below (Abdel Rahman, 2011).
Reported Aquaculture Production in Egypt from 1950 to 2010
The generated income from nature-based tourism is also substantial. Nature-based tourism developments aid in maintaining the natural environment and promote the improvement and development of facilities required to protect and regenerate environmental resources that benefit both residents and tourists alike. Tourism continues to be a main source of hard currency for the country, playing an important role in the balance of payments. The industry used to rank second among Egypt’s major sources of foreign currency. More growth is expected in the tourism industry in the coming years as foreign investments continue to increase.
The tourism sector has grown from 1.4 million visitors in 1982 to 14.7 million visitors in 2010, with an annual growth rate of 16.5%. The economic importance of tourism represents 11.3% of GDP, 19.2% of foreign exchange earnings and 12.6% of employment. There is a clear shift in the demand for tourism destinations, shifting from historical (e.g. Luxor) to nature-based sites (around 50% in the Red Sea and Sinai). Protected areas receive approximately 5 million visitors annually (2010 estimate), where potential for nature-based tourism is very high. Nature-based tourism allows visitors to engage in activities such as diving, trekking, desert safaris, bird watching, visiting unique landscapes, geological features and numerous cultural sites.
The direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP and employment in the period 2004-2024 is presented in Figures (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2014).
The direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was EGP96.8bn (5.6% of total GDP) in 2013, and is forecast to rise by 1.9% in 2014, and to rise by 4.9% pa, from 2014-2024, to EGP158.6bn (5.5% of total GDP) in 2024 (in constant 2011 prices). The total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was EGP217.1bn (12.6% of GDP) in 2013, and is forecast to rise by 1.1% in 2014, and to rise by 4.9% pa to EGP353.2bn (12.2% of GDP) in 2024.
Direct Contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP 2004-2024Direct Contribution GDP2Direct Contribution of Travel and Tourism to Employment 2004-2024Direct Contribution of Travel and Tourism to Employment 2004-2024
In 2013 Travel & Tourism directly supported 1,251,000 jobs (5.1% of total employment). This is expected to rise by 2.4% in 2014 and rise by 2.5% per annum to 1,648,000 jobs (5.2% of total employment) in 2024. The total contribution of Travel & Tourism to employment in 2013, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 11.5% of total employment (2,848,000 jobs). This is expected to rise by 1.6% in 2014 to 2,892,000 jobs and rise by 2.4% pa to 3,673,000 jobs in 2024 (11.5% of total).
Foreign Visitor exports and International Arrivals
Visitor exports were a key component of the direct contribution of travel and tourism in 2013. Egypt generated EGP 46.0 billion in visitor exports as shown in figure. By 2024, international tourist arrivals are forecast to total 11.3 million, generating expenditure of EGP 77.2 billion, an increase of 4.9% per annum (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2014).
The revenues of marine activities related to biodiversity, especially tourism, were estimated at more than 20 billion Egyptian pounds annually (NCS, 2007).
Egypt has experienced first-hand how the loss of biodiversity can impact its economy; 13.5 billion Egyptian pounds are lost yearly as pollinator numbers decline due to the use of pesticides. The protection of Red Sea coastal areas from erosion by coral reefs and mangroves was valued at 80 million Egyptian pounds per km2. The annual expenditure and income from PAs is presented in Figure.
Annual Expenditure and Income from Protected Areas in Egypt

Status and Trends of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems
The natural habitats of Egypt can be broadly divided into; i) desert habitats; ii) arable and urban landscapes; iii) wetland habitats; and iv) coastal and marine habitat. Egypt’s first national assessment of the status of biodiversity at the ecosystem level was carried out between 1996 and 1998 as part of assessing the status and coverage of existing protected areas (PAs), as the main vehicle for biodiversity conservation. The objective was to systematically identify geographical priority areas for the development of a network PAs in Egypt.

The map showing habitats in Egypt as shown in figure, interpreted according to available satellite data, includes 22 main groups of natural habitats such as urban areas, islands, oases, dunes, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, open water, fresh water channels, warm springs (El Ain El Sokhna – Oyon Mousa), coral reefs, and mangrove trees. Every habitat has been subdivided into divisions, depending on morphological characteristics and important groups of fauna and flora that inhabit it.
Natural Habitats of Egypt>>For more information click here to download.
Desert Ecosystems
Dry and sub-humid habitats cover over 90% of Egypt’s territory, combining different ecosystems. The Mediterranean coastal desert receives the highest rain fall in the country (up to 200 mm annually) and has a fair amount of vegetation cover and the greatest national floral diversity. The influence of coastal rains extends up to 60 km inland. About 1,775 plant species have been recorded in desert ecosystems: 279 in North Sinai, 472 in South Sinai, 328 in North Coast, 66 in Halayeb, 250 in the Western Desert and 280 in the Eastern Desert. Most of recorded plants are associated with traditional knowledge in Sinai, the North Coast and the Eastern and Western deserts.
The Western Desert which occupies about two-thirds of the country’s area (681 thousand km2) is a harsh environment. However, a total of 233 plant species (116 annuals and 103 perennials), belonging to 151 genera and 44 families, were recorded in the western Mediterranean sand dunes. Of these, some 30 species are known to be endemic to the Mediterranean. Additionally, a total of 219 plant species (116 annuals and 103 perennials), belonging to 154 genera and 47 families, were recorded in the Sallum area.
In contrast, the desert bordering the Red Sea is very dry and the vegetation is typical of that of the Eastern Desert (223 thousand km2), being largely restricted to mouths of larger wades and along the coast where saltmarsh vegetation grows. As for the Sinai Peninsula (61 thousand km2), it is considered to be a huge mass of basic formation with high rough peaks (St. Catharine Mountain), valleys and some oases. Wades and mountains are characteristic of the landscape of much of the Eastern Desert and Sinai.
Biological diversity recorded in El Omayed, a deserts protectorate, includes 251 plant species (1 endemic, 11 threatened, 17 endangered of extinction), 324 animal species including 39 bird species (4 endemic, 1 globally endangered, 19 rare); 10 mammals (1 endemic, 2 endangered of extinction, 4 rare); 33 reptiles (3 endangered with extinction, 12 under environmental threats); and 242 insect species (2 endangered with extinction).
In the Wadi Allaqi PA biodiversity is represented by 139 plant species (98 of them became extinct between 2000 and 2006 and 6 species are deteriorating due to over and random grazing);15 mammal species (including The Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia), Gazelle, Heyena, Sand Cat, fox, Mountain Rabbit, Ibn Awa, and Wild Donkey); and 100 bird species.
Biological diversity reported in the Siwa PA included 53 plant species, 28 wild mammals including 8 rare species threatened with extinction (namely cheetah, Striped Hyena, Egyptian Gazelle, White Gazelle, Red Fox, Wild Cat and Fennec fox), 32 reptile species, 164 bird species and 36 insects and a large number of invertebrates.
In Wadi El Gemal and Hamata, 140 plant species, including 32 used in traditional medicine, 24 mammal species, 29 species of reptiles and amphibians and 45 bird species were recorded.
There are several indicators used to assess the loss of biodiversity in desert ecosystems. One of these indicators is the loss of 40% of the plant species in the last 20 years in the Wadi Allaqi PA due to extreme dryness and overgrazing. Another indicator would be the disappearance of the Cheetah, which has not been seen in the Western Desert in the past two decades. In addition, the Egyptian desert was home to 6 species Antelopes until the mid-1940s: Mountain Gazelle (Gazella gazelle), Dorcas Gazelle (Gazelle dorcas), Scimitar Horned Oryx (Oryx dammah), Rhim Gazelle (Gazelle leptoceros), Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) and African Wild Ass (Equus asinus). As a result of hunting activities and drought, the Mountain Gazelle, Scimitar Horned Oryx, Addax and African Wild Ass have disappeared completely. Only the Dorcas Gazelle (Gazelle dorcas) and Rhim Gazelle (Gazelle leptoceros) are still present today, however, threatened with extinction. The Dorcas Gazelle is relatively widely distributed compared to the Rhim Gazelle, which had been monitored in limited areas of the Western Desert close to Siwa.
Mountain Ecosystems
Mountainous areas are concentrated in three regions in Egypt: South Sinai, El Owaynat, and Elba in the Red Sea. They cover 0.7 % of Egypt’s territory and are characterized by unique biodiversity given the variety of habitats found within their ranges, such as mountain peaks, rifts, mountain slopes, desert valleys, mountain valleys and caves.
More than 600 plant species have been documented in Egypt’s mountains. Of these plant species, 70 (indigenous and endangered species in Elba and St. Katherine Mountains) are said to have been lost. To date, the different taxonomic groups recorded in mountain ecosystems include: 472 plant species (including 30 endemic – 50 % of the endemic species found in Egypt – and 140 medicinal plants), 85 moss taxa (48% of taxa recorded in Egypt, including two the endemic Tortula kneuckeri and Grimmia anodon). There also exists one species of hepatics (Riccia cavernosa). In St. Katherine there are 41 mammal species, 36 reptile species, 50 bird species and 33 butterfly species. In the Eastern Desert, mountains are home to 361 plant species, including the diversity found in Elba, which comprises of 458 plant species (3 endemic), 36 mammal species, 38 reptile and amphibian species and 60 bird species. In Hamata, there are 150 plant species, In El Owaynat there are 71plant species (40 species became extinct in the last 20 years), 12 mammal species, 12 reptile species, 30 bird species and 24 invertebrate species. The Gelf Elkebir is home to 64 plant species. The most common mountain mammals include the Slender horned gazelle (Gazella leptoceros), Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), Wild cat (Felis silvestris), Swamp cat (Felis chaus), Caracal (Caracal caracal), and Rock hyrax (Procavia capensis).
Agricultural Ecosystems
Agricultural cropland habitats have been declining since the late 1980s. These declines are thought to be related to changes in land use and agricultural practices. Agricultural land continues to be lost to human settlements. About 286,000 feddans (1 feddan = 1.038 ha) were lost from 1990 to 1996; it is estimated that some 47,700 feddans are lost every year. In addition, the introduction of high yielding varieties and their wide use led to the neglect and disappearance of traditional varieties and the erosion of crop plant genetic diversity. Currently, Egypt depends on four crops (wheat, corn, rice and potato) for 50% of its vegetarian food and 14 mammal and bird species for 90% of animal proteins.
Invasive species such as palm weevil and invasive weeds are also of great concern and the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides has led to the disappearance of important agricultural biodiversity such as owls, kites, and pollinators. Fertilizer use increased from 707,400 tons in 2001 to 996,000 tons in 2003 and 4000,000 tons in 2005.
The Egyptian economy’s losses were estimated at about EGP 13.5 billion /year due to usage of pesticides, which contributes to the loss of pollinators. Most of Egyptian botanical crops depend completely or partially upon insect pollination in its production.
Wetland Ecosystems
There are six major inland wetland areas in Egypt: the Nile River, Lake Nasser, Bitter Lakes, Wadi El Natrun, Lake Qarun, and Wadi El Rayan. In addition, there are many smaller wetlands scattered across the Nile delta and valley, and in oases located in the Western Desert. Oases are the only source of water over much of the western desert, the principal ones being Maghra, Siwa, Wadi El Rayan, Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, Kharga, Kurkur and Dungul. There are also six major coastal lagoons on the Mediterranean: Bardawil, Port- Fouad (Mallaha), Manzala, Burullus, Edku and Maryout. The Red Sea coastal habitats and wetlands include mudflats, reefs, mangroves and marine islands. Wetlands and river ecosystems in Egypt are poorly protected and most Egyptian wetlands and river systems have been degraded drastically during the past 50 years as a result of multiple pressures. Although species diversity was recorded for many inland water wetlands (Nile River, Lake Nasser and Northern Delta lakes such as Lake Burullus and Lake Bardawil), there is a need for regular assessments and evaluations to identify priorities for conservation.
Nile River and Lake Nasser
The Nile River (6,650 km) runs 1,530 km in Egypt. The Nile supports most of the country’s wetlands, which are some of Egypt’s most important habitats supporting the greatest diversity and density of bird species. The Nile’s water quality is relatively good from Aswan to Cairo but declines in quality in the Delta. Species diversity recorded includes 87 aquatic weeds, 100 zooplankton and 80 phytoplankton species (algae). At the beginning of the 20th century, a total of 82 fish species were recorded. After erection of the high dam and establishment of Lake Nasser only 58 species were recorded; today 22 species of these (Tilapia spp) are widely spread and 36 species are less spread or rarely found. Additionally, 31 amphibian species and reptiles previously recorded in the river including the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) and Nile Chelonia (Trionyx triunguis) are now found only in Lake Nasser. Presently, mammals are not well represented in Nile River; 37 species were previously recorded and the Nile Rhino (Ceratotherium cottoni) was observed only up to the year 1800 (Fisher and Khalifa, 2003). The most commonly found mammals are small ones, such as rats and bats. Less common mammals include mongoose, red fox, jungle cat and the Egyptian Jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) that are found mainly in cultivated Nile valley and Delta lands.
Mediterranean Coast Lakes
The six Egyptian Mediterranean brackish water coast lakes or lagoons (Figure ‎4 2) are situated along the Nile delta coast (Manzala, Borollus, Edku and Maryout) and to the east of the Suez Canal (Port-Fouad and Bardawil). All of them, with the exception of Lake Maryout, are directly connected to the sea.
The aquatic fauna of the Northern Delta lakes (Figure ‎4 3) is a mix of freshwater and marine species. The freshwater fauna is dominated by tilapia species which make the majority of fish catch. Many Nile species also inhabit these lakes, such as Hydrocynus forskalii, Lates niloticus, Cyprinus carpio, Barbus bynni, Clarias lazara, C. gariepinus, Bagrus bayad and Lates niloticus. Several freshwater tolerant marine species are also found in the Delta lakes, including mullets, soles, seabream, seabass, meager, eels and shrimp. In recent years many of the fish species having originated from marine ecosystems have disappeared from these lakes.
Different taxonomic groups were recorded in Lake Burullus and Lake Bardawil ecosystems. A total of 887 species have been recorded in Lake Burullus: 274 species of vascular plants (137 annuals and 97 perennials), 11 species of aquatic reeds (Phragmites australis), 276 species of phytoplankton (145 of diatoms, 50 species of blue algae, 10 species related to other groups), 90 species of zooplankton, 33 species of benthic animals, 127 species of land invertebrates (screwworms, molluscs, arthropods), 33 species of fish (but only 25 were recorded recently), 23 species of reptiles, 112 species of birds and 18 species of mammals.
During the 1970s, 33 species of fish were recorded in Lake Burullus, but at the beginning of this century 52 species were recorded (most of them fresh water fish and migratory fish) while 8 species of marine fish disappeared. This serves as biological evidence of agricultural sewage impacting the lakes salinity. In spite of increasing primary productivity of the lake, the quality of fish (mostly freshwater fish) value has decreased dramatically.
In Lake Bradawil, a total of 2,111 species have been recorded: 203 species of vascular plants (83 annuals and 120 perennials), 241 phytoplancton and 59 zooplankton species), 72 species of invertebrates including field worms, crustacea (shrimps), molluscs and echinoderms, 55 spiders, 202 species of insects, 45 fish species (bream and mullets), 23 species of reptiles, 241 species of birds (more than 50% of recorded species in Egypt) and 21 species of mammals. A remarkable change was observed over the past 30 years, namely the dominance of bream fish during the 1980s, then Mugilidae family in the 1990s and now crustacea (shrimps) amounts to 50% of lake production.
Biodiversity status of Lake Bradawil according to the red lists described by IUCN includes 6 plant species threatened with extinction, 2 of them are endangered, one is unidentified, and one is rare. In addition to that, 5 species are considered to be limited in distribution. One of the most famous threatened animal species in Lake Bardawil is the Egyptian tortoise (3 species), the wild Egyptian turtle in addition to corn crake which has increased greatly in the last few years. Lake mammals like Greater Gerbeoa, Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda), wild cat, and sand cat are threatened species.
Changes in the areas of the four Nile Delta lakes are shown in Table 3-1 and Figure 3-7. Additional information on the changes in area for lakes Maryout and Manzala are provided in Table 3-2 and 3 3, Figures 3-8 and 3-9. As early as 1977, prior to the dramatic increase in private fish farming enclosures, lake surface areas lost to land reclamation were already at 60% in Lake Maryout, 29% in Lake Edku and 11% in Lake Manzala. By 1988, losses had risen to 30 percent in Manzala and 62% in Edku. Today, Manzala’s surface area is a mere one third of its original expanse of 327,000 feddans and Lake Edku has been reduced to less than half its original size. Similarly, Lake Burullus has lost an estimated 37% of its open-water area and 85% of its marsh area in the past 40 years, largely as a result of ongoing drainage and land reclamation.
Fish serve as good indicators of trends in aquatic biodiversity as their variety easily reflects a wide range of environmental conditions. Fish also have a major impact on the distribution and abundance of other organisms in the waters which they inhabit.
As a result of wastewater discharge into Lake Maryout since 1988 and excessive fishing pressure, most of the less tolerant high-valued fish such as Mugil cephalus, Labeo niloticus, Bagrus bajad, Lates niloticus and Barbus bynni have decreased in numbers and/or completely disappeared from the lake while Tilapia spp. flourished, representing about 90 % of the total yield in recent years. The mullet catch in Lake Maryout has been reduced from 3.6% of the catch in the late1970s to less than 1% in the early 1990s. The eel catch is in danger of disappearing completely. The fish catch of major and minor species from Lake Maryout from 1962 to 2005 is shown in Figures 3 15 and 3 16.
In Lake Manzala, there has been a substantial reduction over the last few decades in both fish and bird species.
In Lake Burullus, the fish composition of the lake has changed over the years (Figure 3 17) due to changes in the environmental condition of the lake.
In Lake Bardawil, fisheries catch composition has changed since 1999 (Figure 3 18) and the contribution of the most economic species, such as the sea bream and sea bass, has sharply declined from 56.5 % in the period between 1982 and 1988, to about 7.5 % in 2007.
Coastal and Marine Ecosystems
Egypt is bounded from the north by the Mediterranean Sea with about 995 km and from the east by the Red Sea with about 1,941 km. The Egyptian coastal and marine environment is distinguished by specific habitats, namely coral reefs and mangroves where the greatest known species diversity of any marine ecosystem is found. Coastal habitats have come under pressure from many forms of development including tourism and urban infrastructure and port facilities.
State of Mediterranean Sea Biodiversity
The majority of the Mediterranean Basin biodiversity is threatened by a range of human activities. Among the most endangered marine vertebrate species are the Mediterranean monk seal; common bottlenose dolphin, short-beaked common dolphin, striped dolphin, sperm whale, green turtle, leatherback turtle, loggerhead turtle, and cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, and chimaeras) (UNEP/MAP/MED POL 2005). Seabirds of conservation concern nest in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean. In the Eastern Mediterranean, seabirds are threatened by habitat loss due to drainage, water diversion, changes in annual water regime, eutrophication, reed cutting, landfills, chemical pollution and hunting (UNEP/MAP 2012).
State of Red Sea Coral Reefs
Egypt is a home to over 1,800 km of diverse coral reef habitats along the western Red Sea coast and in the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. The Red Sea contains some of the world’s unique coastal and marine environments. The most notable among them is the extraordinary system of coral reefs and their associated animals and plants. This environment supports rich biological communities and representatives of several endangered species. Reef-building corals are living animals which produce coral reefs by secreting a hard skeleton made of aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate (limestone). This external skeleton then creates a 3D framework that forms a complex habitat, increasing species abundance and total productivity. Such limestone structures may reach 1.3 km thick and up to 2,000 km long.
Egypt’s coastline possesses a significant proportion and considerable range of the coral reefs found in the Red Sea with about 3,800 km2 of reef area (Spalding et al. 2001) and 1,800 km long (PERSGA, 2010). The Red Sea is home to approximately 300 species of hard coral and 125 species of soft coral. Of the 300 hard coral species found in the Red Sea, two thirds are found in the Egyptian Red Sea, including some endemic species (Kotb et al. 2008). These numbers are higher than those recorded in the Caribbean and equal to the Indian Ocean. Egyptian reefs are fringing reefs alongside the coastline. The reefs extend in the North to the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba and to Ras Hedarba in the South at the border of Sudan. In addition to coral diversity, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba are also home to a diversity of flora and fauna. Different taxonomic groups recorded in Red Sea coral reef ecosystems include more than 1,000 fish species, 500 species of crustaceans, 400 Mollusca species and hundreds of species of other organisms. There are 13 species of marine mammals, 4 marine reptiles and 2 species of mangroves. The dugong (Dugong dugon) and different marine turtle species (hawksbill, green turtle, leatherback and logger-head) are present in different areas across the Red Sea (Tiran Islands, Nabq and Abu Galum Park in the North). In the Gulf of Aqaba, 49 species of invertebrates were found living in the sea grass bed, of which about 70% were molluscs. There are 325 species of reef fish in the Egyptian Red Sea, of which 17% are endemic species. Butterfly Fish have declined in numbers in the Red Sea from an average of 9.7 per 100 m2 to 5.2 per 100 m2 2002, and Sweetlips populations have dropped by 69% (Hassan et al. 2002). In addition, the abundances of groupers and parrotfish in the Egyptian Red Sea have also decreased and this has been attributed to the lack of law enforcement where poaching in the no take zones is high (Hassan et al., 2002). It has also been established that the southern reefs house a greater diversity of fish species than northern reefs (Abu Zaid, 2000). Exposed reefs contain higher fish diversity than sheltered reefs, which has been attributed to a lower incidence of SCUBA divers and fishermen in exposed areas (Pilcher and Abu Zaid, 2000). In areas with higher diving activity, mostly in the north, an average of 55 species can be found in and around non-degraded reefs of Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh. In contrast, a little further down the coast in Marsa Alam, where the number of tourists and developments are considerably less, average fish diversity increases to 70 species in and around non-degraded reefs (Abu Zaid, 2001). There was a positive correlation between the number of Butterfly Fish and live coral cover (Abu Zaid et al., 2002).
State of Red Sea Mangroves
There are two types of mangroves in the Red Sea: Avicennia marina and Rhisophora mucronata. The Avicennia marina is the most abundant, where it was recorded in 28 areas along the coast and islands of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba in Ras Mohammed and Nabq PAs. The second type, Rhisophora mucronata, was recorded in the southern region only (in and around Shalateen) and beyond the Egyptian borders. The most important areas with mangroves are the islands of Monkar and Qaysom, Wadi El-Gemal, Hamata and the southern coast of Safaga. The mangroves provide habitat for a large number of faunal assemblages of marine organisms including a high diversity of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and echinoderms. Many terrestrial organisms and avifauna visit these mangroves for reproduction, food and shelter. Mangroves are surrounded by very rich habitats including coral reefs and sea grasses. They act as nurseries for juveniles of commercially important fish species. Different taxonomic groups so far recorded in Red Sea mangrove ecosystems include more than 22 fish species, 36 species of algae, 40 insect species, 82 crustacean species, 65 Mollusca species and 17 Echinodermata species (PERSGA, 2004; ITTO, 2012).
IUCN Red List
At the national level, several attempts have been made to provide a conservation assessment for different taxonomic groups in Egypt and in its protected areas. By the end of 2013, the conservation status of only the following taxonomic groups is available: mammals (111 species), insects (mainly butterflies: 63 species and Odonata: 40 species), four plant families (Apocyanaceae: 22 species, Euphorbiaceae: 51 species, Primulaceaa: 9 species and Amaranthaceae: 25 species) and birds (43 species), which indicate a continuing increase in the risk of extinction.Figure ‎4 4 to Figure ‎4 117 highlight the status and trends of the assessed taxonomic groups.
As of 2010, 364 species of the over 22,000 species described in Egypt had been assessed (Table ‎4 ). This indicator shows the status ranking by taxonomic group. Of these 364 species, 41 % (152 species) are considered threatened with extinction, although this varies among taxonomic groups. Among selected mammals, insects and plant groups, between 70% and 25% of species are currently threatened with extinction, with the Euphorbiacea plant family facing the greatest risk.
Of the mammals, butterflies, insect odonata, birds, Apocynaceae, Euphorbiacea, Primulaceaa and Amaranthaceae plant species assessed, 31%, 25%, 50%, 60%, 40%, 70%, 44% and 36%, respectively, are threatened. Global environmental reports predict that about one quarter of the world’s mammals will be endangered during the next 30 years. In Egypt, there are many species of desert mammals that had already gone extinct during first half of the 20 century.
Of the 111 mammal species recorded in Egypt (ca. 27 endemic) in 2010, 40 are included in the IUCN Red list, which represents about one third mammals found in Egypt. Global environment reports expected that about one quarter of world mammals will be endangered during next 30 years. In Egypt many species of desert mammals are already extinct during first half of the 20 century.
Figure ‎4 12 highlights the status and trends of selected animal and plant taxonomic groups. Those species that are classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are considered to be threatened.
The preliminary Red Data List of the vascular plants in Egypt includes 457 species (ca 20 % of the total flora) (El-Hadidi and Hosni, 2000). Following the Red List categories of IUCN (1994), these species are classified as 14 extinct, 123 endangered, 54 vulnerable, 173 rare and 93 indeterminate species (Figure ‎4 13). List of nationally threatened plant species and their distribution (Shaltout and Eid, 2010).
However, the impact of conservation interventions on the risk of extinction for these species cannot be assed due to the lack of monitoring programs over a certain period of time.
Currently, efforts are carried on to identify the rest of the groups such as reptiles, as well as the remainder of plant species, insect species and other groups.