UAE must continue protecting local ecosystems to further enhance image

The UAE must continue protecting local ecosystems not only to preserve its natural heritage, but to further enhance its international image, an American conservationist has said.
Desert and coastal reserves ought to be the drawcard for visitors to the UAE, says American conservationist Sean Gerrity. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Desert and coastal reserves ought to be the drawcard for visitors to the UAE, says American conservationist Sean Gerrity. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // The UAE must continue protecting local ecosystems not only to preserve its natural heritage, but to further enhance its international image, an American conservationist has said.

Large desert or coastal reserves can attract visitors to the UAE, in turn making them more aware of the country’s advances in other areas, said Sean Gerrity, president of the American Prairie Reserve (APR), which intends to become the biggest continental US reserve, in the grasslands of Montana.

“What you are starting to do is create a destination, here in this region, for people who otherwise would not come,” said Mr Gerrity, a National Geographic Fellow.

“That is an unusual thing, but it happens around the world. If the anchor or the magnet is conservation, you bring people who would not otherwise bother to come.”

An increase in tourism could lead to a drop in some people’s misconceptions of the region, said the conservationist.

“I think a very high percentage of Americans have the wrong impression of the Middle East,” he said. “If they could come here through conservation in much greater numbers, that perception of the Middle East would change very rapidly.”

The privately funded APR aims to create a protected area of about 3.5 million acres. Currently, it owns nearly 274,000 acres.

“Everything we do, we think about what is going be there in 100 years or 200 years. We are designing for future generations. We are not designing for now,” Mr Gerrity said.

“Our particular project means that first you have to assemble a very large land base, so we are buying property outright. We are using that to glue together a great amount of public land, taking down thousands and thousands of kilometres of barbed-wire fence that used to be for cattle, and making this big reserve.”

The area in Montana is a habitat for American bison. The mammals were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century.

Besides its ambitious goal, APR aims to apply a new model in conservation, one that benefits man and animal. Schemes where natural areas are set aside from human use are often viewed as having negative economic effects on nearby communities, Mr Gerrity said.

“Very often, we create those hard walls and those hard walls are fraught with discontent and it is either the animals or the fish or us,” he said. “What we figured out is how, by doing conservation, we actually benefit people on those edges.”

The APR has created a sustainable brand of beef as a way to bring opportunities to cattle ranchers near by who, said Mr Gerrity, “are not necessarily excited about the idea of bringing back thousands of 800-kilogramme bison ... that eat a lot of grass, or big predators like cougars and wolves”.

By taking part in conservation “you can enhance your business prospects”, said the former entrepreneur. “It is hard, but there are new solutions that people have not thought of.”

vtodorova@thenational.ae

Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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