Abu Dhabi, October 30, 2017: The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) and TOTAL E & P UAE signed an agreement on Monday to further develop Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and turn this globally recognised site into a national and regional hotspot for education and ecotourism and model of responsible tourism.
The agreement was signed by HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, Hatem Nusseibeh, President Total EP United Arab Emirates & Group Representative in the United Arab Emirates at EAD's offices.
As part of this agreement, EAD, with TOTAL's support, will implement the reserve's enhancement plan that aim to support the rehabilitation programme for natural habitats within the reserve. In addition, it also aims to continue the ongoing scientific research in the reserve that contribute to the global scientific knowledge on wetland ecology, biology of breeding resident and migratory birds of the UAE, including the flagship species, such as the Greater Flamingo.
The enhancement plan, which is scheduled to be completed within three years, will include accessibilities for people with special needs and elderly to facilitate their visit to the reserve. It will also include construction of more bird hide facilities near water bodies and building the capacity of the reserve's rangers for effective monitoring and conservation.
HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of EAD, said: "We are proud to strengthen our partnership with TOTAL which commenced in 1999 and has helped us to conduct detailed studies on local species such as dugong and turtles to aid us in taking effective measures to preserve the environment and biodiversity of the Emirate".
HE Al Mubarak added "Signing this agreement with TOTAL, will support EAD in its endeavor to develop Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and turn it into one of the key eco-reserve sites in the emirate to offer it's visitors a unique opportunity to connect directly with nature."
HE Al Mubarak stressed that, "EAD is continuously working to enhance Al Wathba Wetland Reserve as an excellent ecotourism destination. We have recently learned that Al Wathba reserve occupied the first place nationally for the third year in a row for the effectiveness of protected area management. Since 2014, stakeholders in the UAE have been using the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT), a tool developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) for tracking and monitoring the progress in achieving the objectives of protected areas which is a key element in the development of these areas" HE Al Mubarak noted.
Hatem Nusebeh, President Total E&P UAE and Group Representative in the UAE spoke on this occasion saying: "Our partnership with EAD is our commitment to the communities we work with and a contribution to those areas where our impact corresponds to the environment where we conduct our activities. We are proud to be part of this project".
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector said: "The reserve supports a rich array of wildlife and many globally and locally threatened wetland species. Since 2011, flamingos have regularly bred in Al Wathba, making it the only site in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf where this species regularly breeds. In total, the site counts over 250 migratory and resident birds, 11 mammals, 10 reptiles and over 35 plant species".
Dr. Al Dhaheri pointed out that the reserve was opened to the public for the first time in 2014 as part of EAD's Eco-reserve programme to educate the local community and provide nature lovers with a welcome channel to get close to wildlife. "Since then EAD has made significant developments to build an interactive and friendly atmosphere of the reserve and give the visitors the opportunity to reconnect with the natural heritage that exists within the Emirate", she said.
She added that opening the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to the public has provided our community, especially school and university students, with greater access to these protected areas to enhance their environmental awareness and to conduct scientific studies and research. The additional developments set in place within this agreement will further enhance the eco-reserve experience for the visitors.
The reserve, which was close since last May throughout the summer months due to the breeding season of flamingos and high temperature, was reopened to the public October 14th for the cooler season.
Visitors to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve can see over 200 migratory bird species including the Greater Flamingo from the bird hide equipped with binoculars and a telescope. This time of year is the season of flamingo migration, so they are expected to see about 2000 birds.
Over the last year, the reserve, which received visitors every Thursday and Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm, has received more than 5,000 visitors from more than 60 different nationalities and social groups.
Al Wathba Wetlands Reserve is one of the first nature reserves in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was established in 1998 as a protected area by HH Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Since then, EAD has managed the Al Wathba Reserve.
In 2013, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was recognised internationally and declared a Ramsar site, the first in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. With this recognition, this site joined a prestigious list of over 2,400 other internationally recognised wetlands around the world.