Although the United Arab Emirates is better known for being situated in one of the most arid regions of the world, the country also supports a range of unique wetland types such as oases and seasonal wadis in the interior, as well as khors (creeks), mangroves and coral reefs along the coast. There are also extensive areas of salt-encrusted sabkhas (salt flats) and underground aquifers.
In recent years, the UAE has been increasingly active in conserving its wetlands. In 2013 alone, the country has designated three further Wetlands of International Importance, bringing the total to five. A number of the sites are now developing active CEPA programmes.
The federal Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW) organized a national workshop in Abu Dhabi from 24 to 27 November in conjunction with the Ramsar Secretariat, to promote greater coordination for the conservation of wetlands and implementation of the Convention on Wetlands in the UAE. The workshop was opened by H.E. Dr. Rashid Ahmed Mohammed Bin Fahad (Minister for Environment and Water) and Dr. Christopher Briggs (Secretary General, Convention on Wetlands). Participants included representatives of the different emirates with responsibility for the environment, as well as representatives of private companies including property developers, oil companies, consultancy firms and airlines.
During the first two days of the workshop they focused on countrywide implementation of the Convention, with the MOEW presenting the latest national strategies being developed for biodiversity (the UAE’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan or NBSAP) and the coastal and marine environments. Private-sector participants also presented the environmental work of their companies. Other topics discussed included the updating of the national wetland inventory, the formation of a national wetland committee, and the review of national legislation to ensure the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
The remaining sessions focused on wetland site level issues, such as the process of designating Ramsar Sites, best practices for their management and the development of CEPA programmes. Participants also practiced completing the online Ramsar Information Sheet template that will be used from the end of 2014, and tested the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) and gave feedback on its possible use to evaluate the management of Ramsar Sites.
At the end of the workshop, the participants recommended that the MOEW establish a wetland working group to provide a national coordination forum for the management and conservation of wetlands. They also called for the MOEW and local authorities to develop programmes to raise awareness of wetlands and the importance of their conservation; develop volunteer opportunities for the community to conserve wetlands; and encourage universities to conduct applied research related to the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
Report by Lew Young, Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania