SHARJAH // The mangroves of Khor Kalba have been recognised as globally important wetlands by an international convention.
Sharjah’s coastal enclave on the Indian Ocean has become the third site in the UAE, along with Ras Al Khor in Dubai and Wadi Waraya in Fujairah, to be listed by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The convention is an international effort to protect the world’s most important marshlands.
After yesterday’s announcement, made in Sharjah in the presence of environmentalists and government officials, the convention covers 2,103 sites.
An Emiri decree in July last year protected an area of 1,494 hectares known as Al Hafiya that comprises the coastal mangroves, an adjacent mud flat and the acacia plane and mountainous area behind it.
But the Ramsar recognition shows the site has global significance, rather than local or regional, said Hana Al Suwaidi, director general of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority of Sharjah.
“The selection of the reserve as a Ramsar location is a huge step, which allows for the application of international systems in the area that will further preserve the biodiversity,” Ms Al Suwaidi said.
Nessrine Alzahlawi, assistant adviser for Asia-Oceania at the convention, said: “Now international eyes are on [Al Hafiya].”
Ms Alzahlawi said the inclusion of Khor Kalba had generated interest from people around the world who “never knew the UAE had wetlands”.
She said that for a site to qualify for inclusion on the Ramsar list, it needed to meet at least one of nine criteria.
“In the case of Khor Kalba, we have three criteria that applied,” she said.
The first is that the mangrove is old and represents a type of habitat that is increasingly under threat in the region, she said.
It also supports species recognised as needing protection under the Red List of Threatened Species, a global database of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The register lists species in seven categories based on the threats they face – from least concern, which normally applies to plants and animals that are widespread and abundant, to extinct.
A wetland that is home for species listed in the vulnerable category, or higher in terms of the risk, meets the criteria, said Ms Alzahlawi.
Sites can also qualify as habitats to at least 1 per cent of the global population of a rare wetland bird.
Khor Kalba fills this requirement with its population of Socotra cormorants, a seabird under threat worldwide.
Although the area was declared protected last year, the Sharjah Government also announced plans to develop some tourism infrastructure next to it.
That work is expected to be led by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority and overseen by the Environment and Protected Areas Authority.
Paul Vercammen, operations manager at Sharjah’s Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, said that before developers could submit any plans an environmental impact assessment would be carried out.
“It will give us guidelines on when and where to allow visitors and how they can arrive to the site,” Mr Vercammen said.
The effect on rare wildlife from noise, light levels and other impacts of any proposed hotel would also be studied, he said.
A starting date for the assessment has not yet been set but some of the work, related to studying the species in the protected area, is already under way.
“This site has world-wide importance,” said Mr Vercammen. “Now our work starts.”