x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fujairah beauty spot is closed to public

The park will reopen the area for visitors after a management plan is designed and ecotourism infrastructure is in place.

Volunteers removing the graffiti on the rocks at Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah during the clean up campaign organised by Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature, in May. Pawan Singh / The National
Volunteers removing the graffiti on the rocks at Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah during the clean up campaign organised by Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature, in May. Pawan Singh / The National

FUJAIRAH // The picturesque Wadi Wurayah has been temporarily closed to the public to allow its delicate ecosystem to recover.

A ceremony to close off the paved road to the waterfall and its mountain surroundings, a national park since 2009, was led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, on Tuesday.

“As we move into the future we must protect our natural heritage for the good of our people,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “The park is a living and precious symbol of our respect for our past and our hopes for the future.”

One of the best examples of a permanent freshwater habitat in the UAE, the wadi is a sanctuary for rare animals such as the Arabian tahr, a type of mountain goat, and home to about 300 plant species.

The park will reopen the area for visitors after a management plan is designed and ecotourism infrastructure is in place.

“You never celebrate a closure but we are only closing to reopen later,” said Mohammed Afkham, managing director of Fujairah Municipality.

“We want to make this a better place, according to the international standards for eco-tourism and national parks.”

It has not yet been decided how long Wadi Wurayah will close but banning people will give it a much-needed chance to recover from the harm of human impact, said Ida Tillisch, director general of the Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature.

The society has been working with the municipality on conservation projects there since 2006.

“Human activity – chopping down vegetation, littering, even poaching – is incredibly difficult to control and it is always a big setback for what we are trying to do,” Mrs Tillisch said.

“The closure is now really important to put a dramatic stop to degradation, to let nature recover. We can spend our time properly cleaning up and putting in place measures to make the park safe but also to make the park accessible in a more controlled manner.”

The team will have the task of cleaning up rubbish left by campers and removing graffiti visitors have sprayed on rocks.

Volunteers cleaned off the paint in the spring of this year, but fresh graffiti did not take long to appear, said Mrs Tillisch.

The team will also try to exterminate the invasive tilapia fish, which were introduced illegally in the freshwater stream and compete with indigenous fish for food.

Other tasks will include hiring and training a team of rangers to patrol the park and putting in light infrastructure to accommodate camping in permitted areas and to allow easier access to some parts of the wadi.

Further measures will be decided by analysing the results of several research projects under way in the park.

One study is looking at the water habitat and the effects climate change might have on it.

More immediate results are expected from images taken by 35 camera traps that were flown into remote parts of the park by helicopter with the help of the Armed Forces in August.

Deployed in a pre-determined grid pattern, the camera traps will be collected halfway through next month.

The data will allow the team to come up with a model of the area with a better idea of the species living there and the health of animal populations, said Jacky Judas, research manager at the park.

“Depending on the results, we will consider making some reinforcements,” Mr Judas said.

While the area is not fenced off, Mr Afkham said walking into the park is now an offence and offenders face fines.

“We do not want to scare people away but we want them to respect the place,” he said, warning that, in cases of poaching, offenders can be fined thousands of dirhams and face prison terms.

vtodorova@thenational.ae

* The story has been amended since it was first published to reflect that Ida Tillisch is now director general of the Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature.