Wadi Wurayah – UAE’s Biosphere Reserve
March 7, 2019, 4:59 am
In July 2018, Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah was designated a ‘Biosphere Reserve’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The prestigious accolade is awarded for protected areas that demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature and promote sustainable development.
Biosphere Reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Wadi Al-Wurayah Reserve is regarded as an ideal example of a freshwater environment in a mountainous area in an otherwise arid zone. It is also characterized by its unique geological and hydrological systems, not only supporting water storage, but also a rich biodiversity of global significance.
In a statement released on the occasion of receiving the prestigious recognition, HE Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, declared: “Our commitment to nature commenced with the founding father of the UAE, HH ShEikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who gave time, effort and resources to caring for this country’s magnificent environment. He shaped the path we continue to take till this day in preserving the natural beauty of the UAE.”
Dr Al Zeyoudi also noted that assigning Wadi Wurayah as a Biosphere Reserve is a recognition of its unique characteristics as a natural wonder of the UAE. Wadi Wurayah is the second protected area in the UAE to receive this recognition after Marawah Marine Protected Area. He emphasised that the country’s leadership is working to position the UAE as a leading global ecotourism hub, as it possesses all key elements to become an ecotourism destination of choice.
Known as the UAE’s first national park, Wadi Wurayah is a rare area definied by its rich biodiversity. Situated in the Emirate of Fujairah, the biosphere reserve consists of a water catchment area in an arid climate that is part of the Haiar mountain range.
The wadi hosts a rich fauna and flora endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, being home to 81 bird species, 20 mammal species, at least nine reptile and amphibian species and 467 invertebrates. Some of the rarest animals in the world roam freely at Wadi Wurayah, including the Blanford’s fox, Arabian leopards, mountain gazelles, caracals, the Omani owl and the rarest of them all – the urothemis thomasi dragonfly. It was thought to be extinct until 2013, the first time it had been sighted since 1957. The site supports 11 threatened species of mammals and birds, such as the Arabian Tahr and the endangered Egyptian Vulture. The Wadi Wurayah National Park is a rich archaeological site with 29 heritage sites such as Islamic graveyards, petroglyphs and settlements dating as far as the Iron Age (1,300-500BC). The last local family left the area in 1981. Occasionally, locals venture to the site to collect medicinal plants, wild honey and fodder for livestock. It is one of the last Emirati places where traditional farming practices are still maintained.
The Wadi Wurayah project started in 2006. The Wadi Wurayah National Park was formally created in 2009 by H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah. In the same year, Wadi Wurayah was declared the first Mountain Protected Area in the UAE. A National Ecotourism Project which was announced by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment listed Wadi Wurayah as a destination to be promoted to tourists.
In 2010, the environmental organisation Ramsar – the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources – named it one of five UAE sites on its List of Wetlands of International Importance.
In 2013 and 2014, researcher Gary Feulner, whose own investigations of the area began in the late 1980s, finalised his detailed baseline study in 2013 and 2014. The survey of the plants of the Wadi Wurayah National Park (WWNP) showed that the area is home to over 25% of all plant species known in the UAE and adjacent parts of Northern Oman. As a result of his work and of earlier records, Feulner identified a total of 202 native plant species within the area of the park. These include eight species which are regional endemics, only known from the UAE and adjacent areas of Oman. In all, just over 800 plant species have so far been identified in the UAE. Initial studies of the plants to be found in the area were carried out in the 1980s. At that time, the area was described in the first book on the plants of the UAE as being “wild and almost inaccessible.”
“Wadi Wurayah is justifiably acclaimed for its scenic beauty and its exceptional biodiversity,” Feulner said. “By virtue of its large size and its relative abundance of permanent (surface) water, it is home to a high proportion of the plant and animal species that can be found in the Hajar Mountains of the UAE.
Wadi Al Wurayah is a positive example where conservation includes multiple stakeholders to achieve the objectives of sustainable development.