The United Arab Emirates joins the world in celebrating World Biodiversity Day, which is marked annually on May 22, and this year’s celebration is being held under the theme “Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism”.
Engineer Muna Omran Majed Al Shamsi, Acting Director, Biodiversity Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said that biodiversity is the foundation of life on the planet, a key element of ecosystems that provide many goods and services to support the well-being of the economic community. Biodiversity helps provide food, fuel and building materials, contributes to climate moderation, disaster mitigation, soil fertility regeneration, disease control and sustainability of genetic resources. Biodiversity is therefore the foundation of human well-being, livelihoods and culture.
Al Shamsi stated that the UAE Vision 2021 underscores the importance of the conservation of the rich natural environment of the homeland from the risks of human impact through preventive measures such as reducing carbon emissions and through regulatory measures that protect the fragile ecosystems from urban expansion. This is one of the core functions of the Ministry in the national biodiversity strategy. The strategy aims at addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by integrating biodiversity values across all sectors of the country. This strategy also seeks to reduce direct pressures on biodiversity, promote sustainable use, and improve the state of biodiversity by conserving ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.
She added that the Ministry is keen through the preparation of this strategy to align the UAE’s national goals with the goals of the United Nations’ Biodiversity Agreement, the goals of “Aichi” International and the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The UAE has a relatively rich biological diversity that includes a range of ecosystems, and terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Many species are characterized by their unique adaptations to the UAE environment and special climatic conditions. Accordingly, the UAE has taken several measures to conserve biodiversity; many studies have been carried out on species and habitats. The UAE has conducted several studies, most notably the study of large flamingos, and raptors, surveys of vertebrates, the study of alien species and field surveys of reptiles. The UAE has also established natural protected areas. The number of protected areas declared in the UAE increased from 19 in 2010 to 43 in 2016, occupying 14.35% of UAE area – estimated at a total area of 18,000 square kilometers.
The state of biodiversity in the United Arab Emirates reflects its desert environment and its maritime location on one hand, and the rapid pace of development and high population density on the other. The UAE’s terrestrial and marine environments face a variety of pressures and threats, including: economic and urban development, land use and increased consumption of groundwater resources, as well as overgrazing, over-exploitation of living marine resources, pollution from land and marine sources, invasive alien species and climate change.
Living marine and terrestrial species in the UAE have adapted to harsh environmental conditions, but normal adaptation to warm temperatures may not be sufficient to withstand increasingly warm temperatures resulting from climate change. As the coastal areas are predominantly sandy and low-lying, their vulnerability to climate change is very high. Expected impacts from high temperature and a rise in sea level include: erosion, direct immersion, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. These impacts involve risks to existing and new infrastructure and important coastal ecosystems. They are likely to result in significant economic costs through impact on fisheries and aquaculture.
Al Shamsi indicated that the list of protected areas in the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) includes six protected areas in the country: Wadi Al Wurayah Nature Reserve in Fujairah, Al Wathba Reserve in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai, Sir Bo Naair in Sharjah, and the recently added Bul Sayayeef Marine Reserve in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has rich experience in protected areas and habitat conservation. Its efforts to preserve habitats and provide safe havens for threatened and endangered species have enabled the country to occupy the top position in the “Marine Protected Areas” criterion in the Global Environmental Performance Index (GDI) according to the 2016 report.
She noted that the nation has begun to transform many protected areas into tourist attractions by opening these areas to visitors. These areas are an important element in eco-tourism and in raising awareness about the importance of conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. It provides visitors with a rich experience and enable them to appreciate the efforts of the UAE in this area and in the protection of species.
“The assessment of effectiveness of protected area management is a key element in the development of these areas. Since 2014, stakeholders in the UAE have been using METT, a tool developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) for tracking and monitoring the progress in achieving the objectives of protected areas. In 2016, the average effectiveness of the protected area management at the national level was about 67%, beating the global average of 53%,” Al Shamsi concluded.