By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Three new nature reserves will be launched this year, raising the number of protected areas in the Kingdom to 11, Ministry of Environment officials said on Wednesday.

The three new proposed nature reserves are Qatar, Fifa and Jabal Masouda, Ministry of Environment Secretary General Fares Juneidi said yesterday, noting that the nomination files of the three reserves will soon be referred to the Cabinet for approval.

“Approval procedures for Jabal Masouda and the remaining sites are currently under way… We are discussing the launch of Jabal Masouda as a nature reserve with the Petra District Authority and the local community,” he said in a statement released by the ministry.

The proposed nature reserves will be established under the Integrated Ecosystem Management-Jordan Rift Valley Project (IEM-JRV), launched by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in 2008.

The project aims at setting guidelines for land use to ensure the sustainability of financial resources supporting current and future environment-related projects and programmes.

Last year, the Cabinet approved the establishment of the Yarmouk River Basin Nature Reserve due to its unique ecosystem and because it is home to 59 plant and 20 mammal species, some of which are endangered, as well as 58 species of birds.

Under the IEM–JRV Project, implemented by the RSCN, four special conservation areas will be also launched – Homret Maeen, Ben Hammad, Rahmeh and Yarmouk.

The three new nature reserves, located in the Jordan Valley, will be launched in mid-2011, Ministry of Environment Spokesperson Isa Shboul told The Jordan Times, highlighting their environmental and cultural significance.

Fifa, which lies at the southern end of the Dead Sea, contains remnants of sub-tropical vegetation and fresh water streams that have created an oasis in an arid area, thus attracting migrating birds. Fifa is also home to the Syrian wolf and the majestic caracal, according to the RSCN website.

Meanwhile, the proposed Qatar nature reserve is part of Wadi Araba, located 40 kilometres north of the Gulf of Aqaba. The area consists of different habitats, including acacia woodland, sand dunes and mudflats, according to the RSCN.

Jabal Masouda, located in the south in Maan Governorate, is named after the highest mountain peak in the area. The site, with an elevation ranging between 180 metres and 1,500 metres above sea level, contains three bio-geographical zones – Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian and Saharo-Arabian.

The area, part of Al Sharah range, is characterised by steep mountains and seven types of vegetation, ranging from juniper in the highlands to sand dunes and acacia trees along the valleys in the lowlands.