A ROW over whether two major Bahraini reefs should be declared national reserves ended in stalemate yesterday, with one opponent claiming they could be potential goldmines rich with oil, gas and minerals.
The Shura Council was unable to reach a decision on whether Fasht Al Jarem and Fasht Al Adm should be turned into protected reservations, as voted on by MPs.
Some members argued that existing legislation already guaranteed their protection, but others feared they could be seized for development unless they were afforded special status.
Chairman of the council's public utilities and environment affairs committee, Faoud Al Haji, warned that granting them special status could undermine efforts to locate new natural resources.
"We have the Environment Protection Law of 1995, Fishing Regulations Law of 2002 and the Beaches and Coasts Protection Law of 2006 that are more than enough," he said.
"Bahrain has signed four agreements with two companies - Occidental and PTTEP - to excavate for oil and gas and their work on intervals two and three fall on the two fashts. Coming up with this legislation will stop them.
"Those two fashts are not just rich with natural reserves that will certainly benefit the country's future like oil and gas, but other potentially important minerals that pose as good investments."
Meanwhile, Municipalities and Agriculture Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi told members during the session that there were other fashts (reefs) and natural habitats more important than the two earmarked for protection by MPs.
"The Structural Plan 2030 has already drawn up seven areas for possible declaration, including the two, as natural reserves and they are currently being thoroughly studied by our consultants," he said.
"The Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife already carries out its protection duties across the country, including those two fashts, and there is no need to have them declared as special cases."
However, Shura Council Chairman H.E. Ali Al Saleh was among those in favour of granting the fashts protected status - claiming that any oil and gas exploration work would not be affected.
"We could declare those two separately and in future we could declare more, even if they are covered by general bills, as was done with Tubli Bay," he said.
"As I have heard, work by the two companies is being done according to proper environmental standards and through this bill we will ensure that those two fashts are excavated without them being damaged or harmed."
Meanwhile, council member Dr Abdulaziz Abul argued the fashts needed protecting urgently.
"There are many public properties that have turned into private properties and if those two are not protected then they will disappear as others, which have turned into private hands," he claimed.
"Investing in the environment is by far bigger than any financial gain the country may get for 10 or 20 years."
Under a proposal approved by MPs, Fasht Al Jarem and Fasht Al Adm would be protected according to International Union for Conservation of Nature's grade two classification, which means the government could only build family tourism facilities on them such as public parks, hotels, restaurants and jetties, in addition to the allocation of public beaches and coasts.
The protected area of Fasht Al Jarem would measure 240 square kilometres, while the Fasht Al Adm protection zone would measure 260sqkm.
If the protection bill is passed, anyone caught reclaiming or polluting in that zone could face up to three years in prison and/or fines of up to BD100,000.
The same punishments would apply to those who destroy the fashts' coral reefs or marine life through commercial fishing, which would also be banned in that area.
Violators would be obliged to restore the area to its original state at their own expense.
The bill will now be studied by the public utilities and environment affairs committee before coming up for discussion again next Monday.