No one would readily believe that the United Arab Emirates — which conjures up images of an arid desert landscape or gleaming cityscapes — is home to mangroves, wadis, swamps, marshes and many other wetlands of international significance, also known as Ramsar sites.
There are nine designated Ramsar sites (as of February 2019) across the United Arab Emirates. Of the nine, my favourite is Wadi Wurayah National Park, a wetland unique for its freshwater streams, pools and waterfalls, all of which are uncommon in this part of the Gulf. Because of its hydrogeological system, Wadi Wurayah’s habitats sustain threatened and endangered species such as the Arabian Tahr, the Egyptian Vulture, and the Bar-tailed Semaphore Gecko. Rich with history, it is also an archaeological site containing Islamic graveyards, petroglyphs and settlements that date as far back as the Iron Age.
Wadi Wurayah had been granted protected status in 2009 and was closed for the past five years to the public after suffering physical and ecological damage from overgrazing, animal poaching, unauthorised fires built by campers and graffiti.
Last October during the Ramsar Convention meeting in the UAE, I had the rare opportunity to visit the park, hidden in the rocky mountains of the Hajar range. The onsite researchers, conservationists and park rangers shared about their efforts to restore and conserve Wadi Wurayah.
Wetlands are disappearing at three times the rate of natural forests, and we have lost up to 87 percent of wetlands — lakes, rivers, marshes, lagoons, mangroves, coral reefs and more — around the world since 1700, according to the latest Global Wetlands Outlook.
Unless we see more awareness raised and intervention from society, governments and the private sector, the loss of wetlands will continue to have devastating effects on our water supply and quality, food security, biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
Find out more about the Ramsar Convention, which is the only international treaty focused on wetlands conservation and wise use, here.