The Republic of Lebanon is a small country on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered to the north and east by Syria, and to the south by Israel. It is 193 km long and a maximum of 56 km wide, and has a coastline of 225 km. Beirut, the capital, stands midway along the coast.Lebanon comprises four distinct topographic regions. The narrow Mediterranean coastal plain rises gradually east over a distance of some 30 km to the Jebel Liban (Lebanon Mountain) range. The climate is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and warm, moist winters. The average annual rainfall at Beirut is 920 mm, falling mostly during the winter months when Mediterranean depressions are frequent.
Summary of Wetland Situation
In medieval times, the central part of the Beka'a Valley was occupied by lakes, swamps and seasonally flooded marshes, but during the early part of the 20th century, most of these were drained for agriculture. The only large natural wetland which survives in Lebanon is Ammiq Swamp, a tiny remnant of the swamps along the Litani River in the Beka'a Valley. The wetland is unprotected and under threat from drainage schemes and indiscriminate and uncontrolled shooting of migratory birds. The only other significant inland wetlands are man-made lakes, notably Qaraoun Reservoir (1,000 ha), a large storage reservoir on the Litani River which is sufficiently large to attract numbers of migratory waterfowl, and the much smaller Tanayel Lake (6 ha) in the same valley.
The Mediterranean coastline consists mostly of rocky shores and narrow sandy beaches, and there are no significant estuarine systems or other coastal wetlands. There is one group of small offshore islands, the Palm Islands, off the coast of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. These consist of three flat, rocky islands of eroded limestone pavement with a little stunted maquis-type vegetation in gullies. Formerly of considerable importance for breeding seabirds, the islands are now much disturbed by tourists, hunters and fishermen, and no longer support any breeding seabirds.
The Beka'a Valley lies on one of the main bird migration routes through the Middle East, and in former times the extensive swamps were of great importance as a staging and wintering area for migratory waterbirds on their way between breeding areas in Europe and West Asia and wintering areas in Africa. The swamp remains important for waterbirds during the migration seasons, and also supports substantial numbers of wintering waterfowl, especially in late winter when the water level is high and the fields around the swamp are flooded. In the 1970s, regular wintering species included Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Great Egret Casmerodius albus, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Common Teal Anas crecca, Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus and Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. A Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus was present in November 1954, and a Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio was recorded in February 1977. Regular passage migrants included Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Black Stork Ciconia nigra (up to 7 in May), Pintail Anas acuta, Shoveler A. clypeata, Garganey A. querquedula (common), Spotted Crake Porzana porzana, Little Crake P. parva, Corncrake Crex crex, Great Snipe Gallinago media, Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, Wood Sandpiper T. glareola and Ruff Philomachus pugnax. Due to the swamp's position on the Rift Valley migration route, large numbers of White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus, White Storks Ciconia ciconia and birds of prey pass overhead in spring and autumn.
Mammals which are still known to occur in the area include Common Vole Microtus arvalis, Jackal Canis aureus, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, Wild Boar Sus scrofa and Common Hare Lepus capensis, but the Common Otter Lutra lutra, which once occurred in the swamp, is now locally extinct. Reptiles and amphibians include a soft-shelled turtle Trionyx sp., Whip Snake Coluber gemonensis, Grass Snake Natrix natrix, Common Tree Frog Hyla arborea, Fire-bellied Toad Bombina sp., Painted Frog Discoglossus sp. and Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda. Fish include Phoxinellus libanicus and Cobitis sp. Molluscs are abundant, notably Melanopsis sp., Limnaea spp., Bithynia tentaculata, Neritina fluviatilis and Planorbis sp.