Abu Dhabi increases protection of wildlife and natural habitats

Environment Agency policy places controls on projects and activities in some of emirate's most fragile ecosystems

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Wildlife and natural habitats in Abu Dhabi are getting an extra layer of protection through a new Environment Agency policy.

Al Saadiyat Marine National Park and Mangrove Marine National Park are two of the areas covered in the Protected Areas Policy, issued on Tuesday by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region and chairman of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

Houbara Protected Area in Al Dhafra and the coral reefs of Al Yasat Marina Protected Area are also included.

Projects and activities in or near the areas will require environmental impact studies and a licence from the agency under the new policy.

The aim is to protect the natural reserves that form the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network and preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the emirate.

Marine reserves form 14 per cent of the total aquatic biome in the emirate, while terrestrial reserves make up 17 per cent of the land area.

Al Saadiyat features a thriving habitat that is home to the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, while the Mangrove Park is home to millions of mangrove trees that support a thriving ecosystem.

The new policy comes after President Sheikh Mohamed declared 2023 the UAE's Year of Sustainability.

“The issuance of the protected areas policy in Abu Dhabi is a first in the UAE, and aims to strengthen and expand the network of protected areas in the emirate to keep pace with the rapid urbanisation and development efforts, climate change and the increasing pressures and demand for natural resource and sustainable development,” said Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, secretary general of the agency.

It will increase ecotourism opportunities and preserve the aesthetic value of Abu Dhabi's landmarks and terrestrial and marine landscapes, she said.

More than 15 government, semi-government and private agencies contributed to the policy.

It is in line with the UAE's sustainability goals and the protection of natural resources, as well as the preservation of biodiversity, habitats and vital species, Dr Al Dhaheri said.

Protected areas in Abu Dhabi offer investment opportunities that can contribute to the local economy and support the health and happiness of residents.

Habiba Al Marashi, chairwoman of Emirates Environmental Group, welcomed the new policy.

The “very strong step” demonstrates that the authorities recognise the importance of environmental issues as well as economic development, she said.

“The issuing of these kinds of laws sends a strong message to all the players on the ground as well as internationally that the UAE is serious about its sustainability strategy and it wants to play a very responsible role not only on the national level but on the global level as well,” she said.

Enforcement of the policy was key, with the issuing of the new law being the first step, she added.

“You have to have qualified people to monitor and ensure the implementation of these policies, as enforcement is very important. This is a continuous process,” she said.

The policy will help to protect and manage biodiversity and habitats, and enhance the emirate's ability to adapt to climate change, the agency said.

“The policy's scope includes all types of current and future nature reserves, in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems including all national parks, wetlands and biosphere reserves,” said Ahmed Al Hashemi, executive director of the agency's terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector.

It also applies to “areas located around the declared boundaries of natural reserves,” he added, as “any activities or projects in these specific areas may impact the environmental elements of natural reserves”.

Updated: May 30, 2023, 2:26 PM