x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE's Al Wathba recognised as one of the world's best conserved wetlands

It is the UAE's fourth wetland to receive recognition from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Abu Dhabi’s Al Wathba Wetland Reserve has been recognised by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as a globally significant conservation site.

The Ramsar convention is a prestigious international effort to protect the world’s most important wetlands and only sites that meet stringent environmental criteria are recognised. A little more than 2,000 wetlands are included in the convention.

The recognition makes Al Wathba the fourth Ramsar site in the UAE, along with Ras Al Khor in Dubai, Wadi Wuraya in the mountains of Fujairah, and Khor Kalba on the East Coast.

Al Wathba, which already enjoyed protected area status in Abu Dhabi, was designated under the convention on April 25, with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) announcing the news on Monday in the presence of Anada Tiéga, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention Standing Committee.

The recognition, said the EAD’s Dr Salim Javed, was “a feather in the cap” of the reserve and underlined the need to continue protecting it.

The five-square-kilometre site near to Abu Dhabi city has been made out-of-bounds to the public to prevent disturbances to its many species of resident and visitings water birds, such as the Greater Flamingo, which breeds there. Dr Javed said that flamingos have bred at the reserve this year, the third in a row, and the EAD has counted 39 chicks.

“Flamingos are very sensitive species and the fact they are breeding speaks of the overall condition of the site,” he said.

Since 2005, EAD has been studying the birds using satellite tracking to identify their movement patterns. The agency is also coordinating UAE efforts under the International Waterbird Census to collect information about important species of resident and migratory birds. The work, said Dr Javed, has shown that many species rely on networks of wetlands as resting, feeding and breeding grounds.

“Within a country, having a network of sites is important,” said Dr Javed.

However, he warned that other key sites across the country were also in need of protection.

One such site is Khor Al Beidah, a tidal wetflat in Umm Al Quwaim, where only the real estate downturn of 2008 stopped ambitious development plans. Wetlands in Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman also serve important roles in supporting the UAE’s population of rare migratory and resident birds, said Dr Javed.

vtodorova@thenational.ae