Abu Dhabi bid to ensure survival of rare species

Major increases in protected habitats to enhance environment will also address deteriorating water reserves and air quality.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is to step up its bid to rehabilitate the endangered Arabian oryx. Mike Young / The National
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ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi will increase protected habitats by thousands of square kilometres and rehabilitate dozens of endangered species in a plan to tackle the most pressing environmental issues.

By 2020, more than 15 per cent of the emirate’s land and 13 per cent of its water will be legally protected natural reserves.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or Ead, plans to triple rehabilitation and breeding programmes for endangered animals such as the Arabian oryx.

Water shortage, overfishing and loss of habitat are among the challenges targeted by the country in its five-year strategy, which includes nine risks identified by Ead, and will be the focus of research and regulations.

Ead has linked these risks to the rapid economic development of the country, and the strain it has placed on the environment.

Unsustainable use of groundwater, insufficient waste management and declining air quality leading to risk of respiratory illness are also listed in a frank report released on Monday.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ead chairman and the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, said the development of the emirate was critical to its continued growth and prosperity.

“But our primary focus must be to ensure that development does not come at an unacceptable cost to the environment, to ensure that it goes hand in hand with conservation and sustainability,” said Sheikh Hamdan.

The agency has outlined five approaches to the problems caused by rapid modernisation. The first is to protect habitats that have been incorrectly viewed as a disposable resource, said Mohammed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs.

“On initial introduction to Abu Dhabi, people are often surprised by the rich tapestry of its natural heritage,” Mr Al Bowardi said.

“Our varied landforms of mountains, sandy deserts, wadis and sabkha salt flats provide a home for dozens of species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles.”

Three million migrating birds pass through the UAE and its marine habitats are home to the world’s densest population of dugongs, along with hawksbill and green turtles, and four globally threatened species of shark.

Another aspect of the five-year plan is the protection of depleted groundwater reserves.

Then there is the strain placed on the environment by the agricultural industry, which extracts a huge amount of water from aquifers at 20 times the rate it takes for nature to refill them.

At the present rate, agriculture will completely exhaust aquifers by 2030. The Ead goal is to reduce that rate by almost 20 per cent.

Nicholas Lodge, managing partner at Clarity, an agriculture consultancy, said that the issue must be at the top of the agenda.

“Water security is intrinsically linked to food security, and the UAE and other countries with similar climate and natural water resources have an already acute shortage and can only expect things to get worse,” said Mr Lodge.

The National Strategy and Action Plan for Environmental Health recently identified air pollution as the primary environmental threat to public health.

Particulates have natural and man-made sources and minute PM10 particles – a major component of air pollution – have reached 14 times that of World Health Organisation standards in Abu Dhabi during dust storms.

The goal is to increase air quality by creating regulations on the pollutants, Ead said.