Country Profiles

Egypt - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The land area of Egypt is composed of desert (92%) and agricultural land (8%). The country comprises 22 main habitat groups such as: Gebel Elba; Mountains and Wadies of the Eastern Desert; Red Sea Littoral Habitats; Red Sea Islands; Red Sea Marine Habitats; Mountains and Wadies of South Sinai; Central and North Sinai; Mediterranean Wetlands; Nile Valley and Delta; Gebel Uweinat and Gilf Kebir; Western Desert Depressions and Oases; Sand and Dunes of the Western Desert; Western Desert Mediterranean Coast and Mediterranean. The main features of these dry land areas are rocky surfaces, eroded pavement, gravel desert, sand dunes, slopes, cliffs, yet the composition of plants in these areas differs one from the other.

Three hundred and twenty-four species of fauna, and many species of flora, that exist in desert habitats are considered of ecological importance, especially in Sinai. Along with deserts, wetlands also constitute an important ecosystem, with 80 plants, 100 animals and 82 fish, notably along the Nile, spread over 1,530 km of the national territory. Overall, Egyptian biodiversity comprises 143 types of globally important species, 800 species of non-flowering plants, 2,302 flowering plants, 111 species of mammals, 480 species of birds, 109 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians, and more than 1,000 species of fish. There exists a large number of invertebrates, 10,000 to 15,000 species of insects, more than 200 types of coral species, 800 species of mollusks and over 1,000 crustaceans. Eighteen indigenous coral species are considered to be the world’s best as a result of not having been subjected to coral bleaching. Two types of mangroves (Avicennia marina and Rhisphora mucronata) provide shelter for numerous species (40 species of insects, 72 species of butterflies, 65 molluscs, 17 polychaetes, 22 species of fish).

Yet the abundance in species is likely to decline in the coming years. Overall, 51 species of mammals are already endangered, along with 26 bird species and 26 reptile species. In coastal ecosystems, which represent one of the most threatened natural habitats, endangered mammals amount to at least 17 species, sharks to 20, birds to 300, fish to 150, algae to 80, coral species to 20, molluses to 80, crustaceans to 60, with many seaweed species also currently at great risk. The mangrove ecosystem is also vulnerable in spite of its area having increased from 525 hectares in 2002, to 800 hectares by the end of 2007, as a result of the establishment of a protection program. In terms of mountain ecosystems, many of the 600 plant types, found primarily on Mount Sinai (Jabel Saraba), Mount Katrina, are now endangered. Further, the Sinai Tiger has not been seen for 20 years.

The genetic components of some fauna and flora species support the development of medicinal, agricultural and industrial products as well as the basic daily needs of local communities. In addition, biodiversity supports the development of many new industries (e.g. ecotourism) which provide high economic return.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Threats to biodiversity in Egypt are either directly or indirectly related to human impacts, with the former including excessive hunting, clear-cutting and deforestation, and the latter linked to habitat destruction for developmental purposes and all pollution types, including refuse from industry and human settlements. Excessive hunting is endangering several species of resident and migratory birds as well as a number of hoofed animals (e.g. gazelles). Pollutants in the air, water and soil (especially in rural areas) are also threatening a large number of plants and animals as well as leading to a substantial increase in other harmful exotic ones (e.g. species of rats, birds, red spider, American cotton worm). A famous example is the detrimental effect of the introduction of the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) on life in the Nile River. Major threats to marine ecosystems include unregulated tourism, exploitation of marine resources, overfishing and fishing in illegal areas (e.g. breeding grounds) and coastal pollution. At present, 20% of Egyptians live in coastal areas which are also visited annually by 11 million tourists. In addition, more than 40% of industrial activity occurs in the coastal zone. Threats are accentuated by increases in the level of desertification due to climate change as well as in human populations. Many plant and animal species are located at the limits of their geographical or ecological distribution ranges. Under such conditions, these species have limited tolerance for ecological pressures, as is exemplified by corals in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The Egyptian NBSAP (1998) aims to establish a sound basis for the sustainable development of natural resources for meeting the needs of present and future generations, and harmonize conservation and development plans in relevant sectors (e.g. agriculture, industry, mining, housing, tourism). Three main issues are prioritized, namely: the development and management of existing protected areas with a view toward the creation of new ones; biodiversity assessment through monitoring and database updating; institutional development, capacity-building, partnership-building, outreach, securing sustainable financing of projects from donor states and organizations. It is believed that effective NBSAP implementation should be based on a highly participatory process, and adhere to the principle of social equity which affirms that benefits which arise from the sustainable use of biodiversity should be shared among all people, especially women and children. Work on revising the NBSAP has begun.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

A network of protected areas, representing the principal ecosystem types of scientific importance, has been established throughout the country and currently comprises up to 15% of the territory. Egypt intends to increase this figure to 20% by 2017. Programs have also been established for the conservation and management of important and sensitive ecosystems and habitats outside the natural protected areas network, especially in marine and coastal environments and arid lands. In situ programs for conserving restricted ranges and globally threatened species of plants and animals (e.g. sea turtles) have been elaborated. Ex situ conservation is provided through national germplasm banks as well as through captive breeding centres for breeding and the reintroduction of rare, endemic, threatened and extinct plant and animal species.

Egypt’s proposed Natural History Museum promotes research and training in biodiversity and also has a large capacity for conducting educational and awareness-raising activities. Management programs for hunting, fisheries and rangelands have been introduced. Particular attention has been given to the development of ecological tourism along the warm coasts of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Egypt is among the first countries in the world to have taken an active interest in biodiversity conservation and the preservation of natural resources and heritage at the international and regional levels. Egypt became a Party to the Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State in 1936 and to the Agreement for the Establishment of a General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean Sea in 1952, and a Party to several other related agreements since. At the national level, strategies were approved for wetlands (2005), ecotourism (2006) and the maintenance of natural habitats (2007), involving various institutions, such as the National Commission for Sustainability, the National Committee for the Integrated Management of Coastal Areas, the National Committee on Climate Change and the National Committee on Wetlands and Sub-Humid Areas, with a view to aligning political strategies and work plans. As well, programs have been introduced for enhancing the effectiveness of relevant government agencies, as have studies on the need for new institutions at the central and local government levels. Finally, programs for mobilizing financial resources from national and international sources have been launched in support of projects favouring biodiversity conservation.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

As part of a major biodiversity data management program, the National Biodiversity Unit (NBU) has established a biodiversity database containing information available on representatives of the various taxonomic groups in the country. This database is the nucleus of a national network connecting scientific establishments and referral collections (e.g. herbaria, botanic gardens, zoos) in universities, research centers and scientific societies (e.g. Entomological Society of Egypt). The country intends to make the database globally available via the web. The following reports have been produced by national experts: Ecosystems as seen from a geographical perspective; Guide to the Mammals of Natural Protected Areas in Egypt; Reptiles of Egypt; Natural Protected Areas of Egypt; Marine Algae of Alexandria; Checklist of the Flora of Egypt; Fungal Biota in Egypt; Birds known to occur in Egypt; Freshwater Fishes of Egypt.