Bahrain has announced it will create one of the world's largest offshore preservation sites, which it claims will enable it to compete against the Maldives for tourists.
A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) official told Gulf Daily News the project could add more than $200bn to Bahrain’s economy through tourism and environmental preservation.
The Northern Heyrat Preserve would include four natural pearling sites off the north coast of the island kingdom, covering 1350 square kilometres of sea.
The project is intended to boost tourism as well as safeguard the maritime ecosystem and will be developed by the Supreme Council for Environment in collaboration with the Culture Ministry, the UNEP and the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage.
"The most important thing about this project is that it will create a sustainable ecosystem that can generate revenue," SCE deputy chief executive Dr Mohamed Mubarak bin Daina told GDN.
"If you protect an area like that, you'd be able to generate tourism similar to countries like the Maldives - who cannot fall back on oil or other natural resources.
"It's the first project of its kind in the Arab region."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature had been consulted and bin Daina said the preserved area would include the 2-kilometre Pearl Route, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNEP West Asia coordinator Dr Fouad Abousamra said the project would boost tourism and also create economic benefits from protecting the environment, potentially adding $227bn to the Bahraini economy.
"That is the site's value in terms of cultural, economic, social and global environmental services," Abousamra said.
"This is still a rough figure, but we have worked hard to find this estimate.
"It is not all about profit or revenue, the public need to understand some of it is about future sustainability.”
Abousamra said tourism, recreation and research at the site could generate between $7.5m and $287m, while fisheries could benefit from between $147.1m and $5.6bn, plus about $3.1bn from coastal protection, $109m in biodiversity and between $48.6m and $235.7m in water quality.
"It’s worth comes from the fact that the site is unique in the world,” he said.
"You can't find something like this anywhere else in the world."
Four pearling sites, Najwat Bulithama, Heyr Bulithama, Heyr Ishtayya and Heyr Bu-imama, will be protected with the hope of reviving Bahrain’s historic pearling industry that dates back 1000 years but has been superseded in recent decades by oil and manmade pearls.
The project is expected to be begin next year.