ABU DHABI, 16th October, 2018 (WAM) -- Op-Ed by: Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment
As we are situated in one of the most arid regions in the world, people are usually surprised to learn that the UAE has mangroves, wadis, salt marshes and lagoons.
But if you had a bird’s-eye view of Wadi Wurayah National Park, our protected wetland nestled between the rocky Hajar mountains, you would see green and blue, the rare colors of oases and vegetation, set within the surrounding desert landscape.
Freshwater is what makes these 31,000 acres so special and home to over 300 species of plants and 100 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Managing wetlands such as these is an important piece of the puzzle for climate change mitigation, as research has proven that mangroves and peatlands are extremely efficient in drawing out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and trapping them in flooded soils.
Unfortunately, Wadi Wurayah’s natural state was subjected to human misuse, from graffiti that covered its rocky walls to animal poaching and unmanaged fires that damaged the habitat. That changed in 2009 when with the stroke of a pen, H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah, signed a decree giving Wadi Wurayah legal protection as the UAE’s first mountain protected area.
Since then, great strides have been made to boost and maintain long-term sustainability of the area by reducing the outside threats to its ecosystem as well as helping the development of the local government’s ability to manage and restore the area to its original state.
A core value of the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was environmentalism. Our late Ruler was famous for his love of nature and conservation, and this has since inspired many of our environmental projects underway across the nation and the world.
The UAE has been a pioneer in the region for its environmental commitment as seen from our major investments in renewable energy and even having a Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. Ecological restoration and environmental protection are national priorities as they concern a major part of our heritage.
But this cannot be done solely by a government.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) have played a significant role in the restoration and biodiversity preservation for Wadi Wurayah. In 2014, there were intensive weekly clean-up activities initiated by Fujairah Municipality and coordinated by Wadi Wurayah National Park rangers, together with volunteers from various government and private organisations, notably the Al Ain Zoo and DULSCO. There was also the launch of the Water Research and Learning Programme, which is a collaboration between the Emirates Wildlife Society, World Wildlife Fund and Earthwatch, that monitors freshwater reservoirs, conducts dragonfly tagging and even camera trapping of wildlife in Wadi Wurayah.
Based on the transformation we have seen at Wadi Wurayah, I believe that there is merit in considering a PPP model for conservation programmes at large, as they can potentially expand our ability to protect natural resources more effectively. These partnerships, when managed and administered carefully, can bring together multiple players to finance and implement conservation efforts for the benefit of society and all parties involved.
When talking about PPP in conservation, it is important to keep an open mind about the potential contributions every party can make. Funding is a crucial element, but private partners also bring other resources to the table that federal agencies might be lacking, such as particular knowledge and expertise. For example, in the case of Wadi Wurayah, the Al Ain Zoo brought a great deal of know-how and best practice to the project that was then complemented by the practical guidance and manpower provided by a range of conservation organizations.
What we have learned and observed in the case of Wadi Wurayah is that when partners complement each other well and work together towards a common goal, the dynamic and energy that develops between them can help achieve truly outstanding results.
Slowly, Wadi Wurayah is unveiling her secrets. A 2017 survey completed by the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wildlife Fund’s Terrestrial Conservation Programme uncovered a previously unsighted species, the Arabian Eagle Owl. This discovery proves how critical research and exploration of the UAE’s biodiversity truly is. Earlier in June, the discovery of a group of Indian crested porcupine in the park, some 600 kilometers from what was believed to be its known range in Arabian Peninsula, caused quite a stir as well.
Again, from mangroves to peatlands, wetlands are the planet’s most effective carbon sinks as they are capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. A 2015 study by Nature, a multidisciplinary science journal, found that biodiversity strengthens ecosystems and boosts their resistance to extreme climate events.
The effects of climate change, the environment and our future are intertwined. As urbanization continues to increase and the effects of climate change become more evident, policymakers worldwide are looking to nature as part of their climate change mitigation strategies and their efforts to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
PPP can provide one way to think about how to meet these goals effectively as we continue working towards the restoration and preservation of our natural environment.