The conservation and protection of the environment of the UAE is one of the most complex tasks it has faced to date. High temperatures and low rainfall create harsh conditions, requiring special adaptations for both animals and plants to survive. Even minor climatic changes may have a severe impact on the UAE’s biodiversity. In addition, a low-lying coastline means that even a small rise in sea level could have serious implications in the coastal zone, where the overwhelming majority of the country’s inhabitants live and where much of planned development is taking place. Indeed, scientific studies are detecting signs that sea level in the Gulf may already be rising.
The populations has grown from around 180,000 in 1968 to around five million today. As a result, the amount of land being used for residential, commercial and industrial use has increased dramatically. Reclamation and development have reshaped the UAE coastline in a very short time frame. Extension of the Federation’s infrastructure in the form of airports, ports and highways has taken an additional toll on what was formerly natural habitat, while quarrying stone for construction has had a significant impact on much of the Hajar Mountains.
Notwithstanding the dynamics of change, the Government is committed to conserving the environment and a reaching a sustainable balance between environmental protection and the needs of development.
The federal Ministry of Environment and Water, along with local agencies – of which the most active is the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, responsible for nearly four-fifths of the UAE’s land area – have continued to work on proactive programmes of scientific research and the preparation and implementation of ever-regulations and guidelines.
Educational campaigns have been designed with the help of non-government organizations such as the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) to raise public awareness of the need to protect the environment and to reduce the consumption of energy and water.
Yasat Marine Protected Area, with its endangered dugongs, has been enlarged to include several more islands, and now covers an area of nearly 3000 square kilometers. EWS and the Fujairah Municipality have also declared the Wadi Wurrayah a protected reserve. Home to the endangered Arabian tahr, this the UAE’s first mountain reserve.
Conservation of fresh water and marine resources is also high on the UAE agenda, while air pollution attributed to rock quarrying and cement manufacture has led to closure of certain establishment in Ra’s al-Khaimah and Fujairah.
In addition, the Federation has worked for many years with other countries on the basis of bilateral agreements to protect particular species, such as the houbara bustard, which breeds in central Asia but migrates to the Arabian Gulf. The UAE has now been chosen as the Headquarters for a new international agreement on the conservation and protection of migratory species of birds of prey throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.