Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Getting UAE teenagers to embrace nature? There's an app for that

Conservationists hope new platform will tempt more youngsters outdoors

How do you get teenagers to stop staring at screens and have fun outdoors? The answer, according to conservationists, is to build them a smartphone app.

The unusual approach is part of a new drive aimed at encouraging youngsters across the UAE to enjoy the natural environment.

Focusing on 16-24-year-olds, the app will allow users to build their own profiles, interact with friends, complete challenges and play games.

And while it will not quite mean teenagers will switch off their phones, creators of the platform hope the technology will encourage them to take up healthy activities such as kayaking, hiking and camping.

“We’re utilising technology to get children out there to explore our beautiful natural heritage,” said Jennifer Croes, associate director for conservation education and outreach at Emirates Nature-WWF.

“We really believe it’s important that we have an outreach programme for UAE youth. We know, and we understand based on focus groups we’ve conducted, that this is what they want.”

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The app - called Connect with Nature - has been set up in a partnership between Emirates Nature-WWF, the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation.

Those behind the scheme aim to launch it in Abu Dhabi first, with subsequent plans to roll it out across the Emirates.

The app will include a map that point users to different locations which have been ‘gamified’ with challenges.

Those who visit the sites - including Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Saadiyat Marine National Park and Al Qudra Lakes - and complete the games receive awards that are displayed on their profile.

A series of free events, such as night trekking and desert camping, are also available to those who download the app.

“It’s about getting the youth to understand their own back yard, appreciate natural heritage and how they rely on it for their survival,” said Laila Abdullatif, director general of Emirates Nature-WWF. “It’s essentially using a mobile phone as a remote control into nature.

“We recognise the imminent need for Emirati youth to re-connect to their natural heritage, and to protect the UAE’s rich biodiversity and many unique habitats.

“It is our duty to invoke a sense of community responsibility among the next generation of environmental ambassadors to drive change not only locally, but globally as well.”

Mohammed Saleh Al Baidani, director general of the International Fund for Houbara Conservation - a non-profit aimed at protecting the species – said any effort to encourage a greater engagement with wildlife and the outdoors should be welcomed.

“Young people are on smartphones and tablets a lot of the time,” he said. “Modern life is stopping them from being in contact with nature.

“With this programme and other programmes we are trying to encourage them to improve conservation.”

Updated: January 26, 2019 04:53 PM

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