WAM ABU DHABI: The Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi has been recognised internationally and declared as a Ramsar site, the first in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) announced on Monday.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has ratified the Ramsar Convention ever since it came into force back in 2007. Today, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve joins a prestigious list of over 2,000 other internationally recognised wetlands around the world.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (also known as the Ramsar Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Based on Ramsar’s philosophy, Al Wathba was declared an official site based on the maintenance of its ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development, EAD said in a press release.
According to Ramsar, in order for a wetland to be selected for the List, it must account of its international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology (study of inland waters) or hydrology (study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water). To officially recognise Al Wathba Wetland Reserve on its List, Anada Tiega, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention Standing Committee, visited Abu Dhabi to present EAD with the certificate.
“The declaration of Al Wathba as a Ramsar site is a significant milestone in the development of the Reserve since its designation as a protected area in 1998, and is a realisation of the vision of the UAE’s founding father, the Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD’s Secretary General, said in a press release.
“With the support of our leadership and the UAE Ministry of Environment ‘&’ Water, we are successfully managing this area and running bird monitoring and tracking programmes. Today, the entire nation can join us in celebrating Al Wathba being internationally recognised for its contribution to the conservation of biological diversity. We are delighted that this is testament of our efforts to preserve the UAE’s natural heritage,” she added.
The Al Wathba Wetland Reserve (45 minutes away from Abu Dhabi and covers a total area of 5 sq km) was declared a protected area by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan back in 1998 after it was converted to a reserve following an accidental discharge of over-capacity treated sewage water from Al Mafraq Wastewater Treatment Plant. Sheikh Zayed’s vision was to provide a suitable habitat for migratory birds and a breeding area for the Greater flamingo. It has been managed by EAD ever since.
As a result of it �protected’ status, Al Wathba has since become a safe breeding haven for the Greater Flamingo, which bred successfully for the first time on the reserve in 1998. Today, the reserve supports a rich variety of wildlife including 237 species of invertebrates, 11 mammals, 10 reptiles and more than 250 species of birds. The reserve is also rich in plant species, with 37 species having been documented.
Since EAD began managing the reserve and running the bird monitoring programme, the number of flamingos on the Reserve has steadily increased. On an average, 3,000 flamingos can be seen during the winter months. Improved protection and maintenance of the water levels have also ensured successful breeding of the flamingos. In 2013, flamingos again bred successfully and 39 chicks successfully fledged, making it the most extensive flamingo breeding on record at Al Wathba.
“We will continue to monitor and improve the habitats of the reserve to provide a suitable nesting environment for the flamingos and other waterbirds,” said Dr. Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD.
“The number of species we continue to find in the Reserve is an indicator of the ecological richness of this small wetland habitat. As such, we will adapt our plan to continue to ensure the effective management and monitoring of certain aspects of the Reserve such as the water quality, vegetation, invertebrates and reptiles and bird species,” she concluded.