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Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity

The United Arab Emirates joins the world in celebrating World Biodiversity Day, which is observed annually on May 22. This year’s celebration is being held under the theme "Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity”, to mark the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by the UAE in 1992 and acceded in 2000.

Speaking on the occasion, Hiba Al Shehhi, Acting Director, Biodiversity Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said that biodiversity is a key ingredient in environment conservation policies in the UAE.

Al Shehhi stated that the UAE Vision 2021 underscores the importance of the conservation of the rich natural environment of the homeland from the risks of human activities through preventive measures such as reducing carbon emissions and through regulatory measures that protect the fragile ecosystems from urban expansion.

She added that the UAE’s leading standing in wildlife conservation is further cemented by the National Program for the Sustainability of Wildlife, an initiative of the Government Innovation Laboratory in response to the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The Program aims to ensure the sustainability of the rich local biodiversity through an array of integrated legislations, policies, researches, and initiatives that protect indigenous species, regulate the trade in flora and fauna, and identify invasive species and mechanisms to eradicate and control them.

Al Shehhi stressed that the UAE has rich experience in protected areas and habitat conservation. Its efforts to preserve habitats and provide safe havens for threatened and endangered species have enabled the country to occupy the top position in the "Marine Protected Areas" criterion in the Global Environmental Performance Index (GDI) according to the 2016 report.

She added that the UAE is committed to expanding and increasing its protected areas, as the number of protected areas declared in the UAE is 43, occupying 14.35 percent of the UAE area – estimated at a total area of 18,000 square kilometers. The number of protected areas already exceeds the objective of the National Biodiversity Strategy.

Hiba Al Shehhi further detailed that the UAE has joined and ratified the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and has listed seven areas as wetland sites of international importance. These include: Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai, Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah, Mangrove and Alhafeya Protected Area in Khor Kalba, Sir Bu Nair Island Protected Area in Sharjah, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Bul Syayeef Marine Protected Area in Abu Dhabi, and Al-Zora Protected Area in Ajman.

She added that the importance of coastal wetlands, mangroves, marshes, and salt and tidal flats typical of the country’s marine and coastal environments is that they store large amounts of carbon and create a natural barrier against storms and sea waves. They also offer a unique environmental value in terms of their biodiversity and renewable natural resources and their contributions to groundwater quality.

Al Shehhi explained that endangered species breeding receives a lot of attention in the UAE. For example, the houbara bustards breeding centers in Abu Dhabi, Morocco and Kazakhstan, all overseen by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation in Abu Dhabi, has exceeded its goal of breeding 50,000 houbara bustards and releasing them in their natural habitat.

There are also five falcons breeding centers, in addition to the breeding programs of Arabian oryx and African oryx. These programs managed to reintroduce a considerable number of animals and birds in their habitats in the UAE and abroad.

Al Shehhi emphasized that biodiversity protection is one of the core functions of the Ministry, which it aims to achieve through a host of national programs that will ultimately meet the targets set by the National Biodiversity Strategy. This strategy is primarily aimed at addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by integrating biodiversity values across all sectors of the country, reducing direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use. It also aims at improving the state of biodiversity by conserving ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, Ecosystem services. The implementation of the strategy will be through participatory planning, knowledge management, capacity-building and awareness raising. The National Biodiversity Strategy was prepared in cooperation and coordination with all stakeholders in the public and private sector, in line with the UAE vision and its national goals and the objectives of Aichi Convention on Biological Diversity.

She noted that the nation has begun to transform many protected areas into tourist attractions by opening these areas to visitors. These areas are an important element in eco-tourism and in raising awareness about the importance of conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. It provides visitors with a rich experience and enable them to appreciate the efforts of the UAE in this area and in the protection of species.

Al Shehhi concluded that the UAE’s regional and international efforts in supporting high biodiversity and maintaining sustainable natural resources have secured it a prominent position as a world-class hub for environmental conferences and major events. The UAE will organize and host the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP13), in Dubai from October 21 to 30. The Conference will be hosted in cooperation between the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and Dubai Municipality and is expected to draw participation from over 1,200 representatives of the governments of the 168 Contracting Parties, in addition to representatives of non-member states and non-governmental organizations.


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