UAE basks in limelight with nine wetlands on Ramsar list

In addition to the Hatta Mountain Reserve, Dubai has two other Ramsar Sites of International Importance: the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Flamingos are seen at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. (Dubai Municipality)
A rare ecosystem. Flamingos are seen at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. (Dubai Municipality)

DUBAI - As it marked the World Wetlands Day, the United Arab Emirates also celebrated hosting nine internationally recognised wetlands on the Ramsar list.

The Hatta Mountain Reserve in Dubai is the site most recently chosen for the honour. The Ramsar Convention Secretariat made the announcement on the eve of World Wetlands Day, February 2.

In addition to the Hatta Mountain Reserve, Dubai has two other sites on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance: the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jebel Ali Wildlife Sanctuary. The latter was added in last October at the Conference of Contracting Parties to Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates recognised the link between environment and climate change when it renamed the Ministry of Environment and Water as the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment three years ago.

Thani bin Ahmed al-Zeyoudi, UAE Climate Change and Environment minister, said the country’s environmental efforts have led to the designation of 43 protected areas that are internationally acclaimed to provide shelter to many of the species considered threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Environmentalists lauded the move as a demonstration of the Emirates’ commitment to a green economy and sustainability.

Mohammad Ali Reza Khan, principal wildlife specialist at Dubai Safari, said: “It is great news for such a developing industrial and economic zone in the Gulf. The efforts of the UAE government are appreciable.”

“The characteristics of the wetlands need to be protected at all costs and not compromised for developmental activities. The UAE has a good record on this front. Most protected areas are divided into core zones and buffer zones. In the latter, limited economic and recreational activities can be carried out in line with developmental goals which do not compromise with nature,” he added.

Hatta, about 130km east of Dubai City, is in the Hajar mountains bordering Oman. The mountains receive about 30% of the UAE’s total annual rainfall.

Amid the scarcity of freshwater wetlands in the region, the site represents a rare mountain freshwater ecosystem, which is home to a large number of species. It supports 19% of all the plant species in the country, 79% of its dragonflies, 27% of its birds, 44% of its mammals and 30% of its reptiles and amphibians, some of which are considered threatened.

The site is one of the few along the mountain range with breeding habitats for water birds, fish and amphibians.

Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary was established in 1998 and spans nearly 22 It is recognised by the Convention on Biological Diversity as one of the Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas in the Arabian Gulf.

With diverse habitats that include coral reefs, mangroves, shallow lagoons, seagrass, oyster beds and sandy shorelines, the Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary provides shelter to about 539 species of marine fauna and flora.

The area supports the survival of two threatened species of marine reptiles, the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle. Both species use the area as feeding grounds. The sandy beaches of Jebel Ali are main breeding sites for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle in the UAE and the only one in Dubai.

The UAE became a member of the Ramsar Convention in 2007 and since then has pioneered wetland preservation.

The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary became the first UAE wetland listed by Ramsar as a site of international importance in 2007. Wadi Wurayah National Park (Fujairah), Al Wathba Wetland Reserve (Abu Dhabi) and the Mangrove Protected Area in Khor Kalba (Sharjah) were later added. The other sites in the UAE are Bul Syayeef Marine Sanctuary (Abu Dhabi), Sir Bu Nair Island (Sharjah) and Al Zorah (Ajman).

Dawoud al-Hajri, director-general of Dubai Municipality, said the UAE “has become the country with the highest number of Wetlands of International Importance at the level of Arab countries in West Asia and Dubai becomes the emirate with the highest number of wetland sites in the country.”

With these three sites, Dubai boasts a unique pattern of wetlands. Despite its hot climate, it has mangrove trees, marshes and coral reefs and access to fresh water, which is scarce in the environment at the state level, Hajri said.

Hajri said the Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary had “unique ecological features and supports several endangered and threatened species, making it ideal to gain mention on the Ramsar List.