[meteorite-list] Wabar Crater Under Threat From Vandals

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:31:20 2004
Message-ID: <200402090547.VAA23324_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Wabar Crater Under Threat From Vandals
Arab News
February 9, 2004

JEDDAH - Saudi Arabia has 'nothing' to offer the world
tourist. Whole deserts full of it. It has captivated the imagination of
explorers and visionaries for millennia and it is beginning to lose the very
quality that makes it special; the absence of everything else.

One of Saudi Arabia's greatest geological wonders, essentially a large hole
in the ground, has finally proved too tempting as a rubbish tip. The Wabar
Crater is becoming a tourist attraction but is also attracting the attention
of graffiti writers and depositors of garbage.

As part of the process of making this tectonic treasure much more accessible
and open to all to wonder at, paved roads now lead to the very edge of the
rim, affording a stunning view into the now dry lake bed 350 meters below.
The crater stretches over 2 km from rim to rim, far bigger than the meteor
impact site that is a major tourist attraction in Arizona. On the night of a
full moon, the pure white salt of the lake bed glows as if lit from within,
throwing a crepuscular glow onto the stark cliffs around.

A few meters from the rim, lies a field of black lava, textured with
bas-relief ripples and swirls as if still liquid. Moonlight glistens on the
semi-polished surface of the flows, silvering the furrows and smooth curves.
Small caves, the result of huge burst bubbles of superheated steam, lie
open, roofs partly collapsed allowing rare views inside the lava mass.
Smaller caves and fissures are home to foxes and small mammals, their tracks
in the windblown sand betraying their occupancy.

The total silence is broken only by the gentle rustle of a blue plastic
carrier bag as it tumbles in the night breeze, or the staccato clatter of an
aluminum can rolled over the cliff by a playful zephyr.

The national tourist drive which provided the roads, has also spawned a rash
of startlingly ugly white rectangular sheds, placed there as protection from
the sun and for families to relax in and enjoy the scene. Large
white-painted surfaces also attract the semi-literate with their spraycans.
All of the white surfaces - and even the blue road signs indicating the
route to the crater - now display the scrawl of the graffiti writers. Some
have even ventured into the crater, leaving evidence of their passing
splashed on the cliff walls.

In August last year, Prince Sultan ibn Salman, secretary-general of the
Supreme Commission for Tourism, said he believes that tourism will grow from
the bottom up. He sees a future where towns and villages will be able to
form a tourism council and develop a local tourist industry. By involving
the local people in the commerce of tourism and letting them benefit from it
financially, he said, they will realize its benefits.

"They will also protect it. No one can protect the industry except people
who feel that it is theirs," he said. "It's a new decentralized approach -
the government within five years will literally be out of your hair. That's
what's planned, it's what we have announced and it's what the Council of
Ministers has agreed on."

These are impressive objectives and there are places in the Kingdom that
equal any of the heavily protected World Heritage Sites found elsewhere on
the planet.

The man with the spraycan or the individual who is willing to dump a
truckload of industrial garbage in a beauty spot clearly has no
understanding of the value of the site and is ahead of the game. His efforts
to leave his own unique "footprints in the sands of time" have overtaken
attempts at conservation through restriction of access or by educating
people to appreciate their heritage.

The individual who litters with drinks cans and plastic bags is willfully
careless of the fact that others, who have the same wish to visit a site of
great beauty, might not wish to sit in a half-eaten kabsa or swat itinerant
plastic bags. If this behavior goes on for five years, the damage to the
tourist attraction might be so great that it cannot be reversed.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of if you are selective about the kind of
tourist you want, especially in a country like Saudi Arabia," said Prince
Sultan. "We are not the kind of country that has to have tourists at any
cost or at any price."

Again, these are right and noble ideals. But the sad truth is that until
environmental education gets through to the average citizen, the unique
wilderness heritage of the Kingdom will be under greater threat from the
indigenous rather than the foreign tourist.

It seems that as long as a carload of individuals can drive right to the
edge of the crater, treat it as a dining area or rubbish tip and then
disappear back home with ease thanks to an open road, the preservation of
the wilderness will be under threat. Its survival requires responsibility
and an appreciation of nature that some people simply do not have.
Received on Mon 09 Feb 2004 12:47:20 AM PST

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