UAE’s plant species to be preserved in ‘gene bank’
ABU DHABI // As the last of its kind in Abu Dhabi, the Dwarf Palm Tree now has an organisation that will ensure its survivability regardless of whether the sole specimen were to perish.
The Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) is set to document and preserve plants through the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Plant Genetics Resources Centre in 2017.
The purpose of the centre is to collect and document native plants so that if any species became extinct in the wild it could be cultivated in captivity and reintroduced back to nature.
One plant in danger of extinction is the Dwarf Palm, or Nannorrhops ritchiana, of which only one exists in an undisclosed Abu Dhabi location.
The centre has taken precautions to preserve the tree in case it was to die.
Although the centre is not set to be complete for more than two years, the team behind the bank has already initiated conservation efforts by amassing seeds that will allow scientists to begin research on opening day.
“Some of these plant species are considered as natural resources for growing crops in different parts of the world, which increases their importance on a global scale as they constitute an essential plant genetic resource,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, EAD’s executive director of terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector.
Similar to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a Norwegian seed bank that collects spare copies of genes from banks around the world, the Abu Dhabi centre is aiming to gather seeds and tissue samples of all plants in the UAE.
“We need to conserve these native plant species and use them sustainably through the establishment of the ‘Gene Bank’ for plants genetic resources. In the long run, the project will also include direct and indirect economic returns,” said Ms Al Dhaheri.
As a secondary purpose, the centre will study plants for medicinal purposes, according to EAD representatives.
Ms Al Dhaheri said that recent studies conducted by the Ministry of Environment and Water, in collaboration with EAD, estimated that the plant species scattered across the UAE numbered 755 and belonged to 81 different families.
She said that more than half were found in Abu Dhabi.
In addition to the research facilities and seed bank, the centre will have an exhibition area where visitors can view scientists working in the lab through a glass window.
Razan Al Mubarak, EAD secretary general, said that the importance of the project could not be understated.
“It also enhances rehabilitation programmes and supports reintroduction programmes of endangered species,” she said.
With the UAE’s flora richness and diversity is considered as one of the key elements of national heritage and identity, Ms Al Mubarak said that the centre will aim to preserve that.
However, she warned the flora’s natural environment had become vulnerable with the possibility of degradation and loss due to the increasing population, urban development and desertification.
EAD is working on implementing the project in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, which is providing technical and scientific support and consultations for the project’s design and preparation.
Updated: November 24, 2014 04:00 AM