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Conserving for the Future

The UAE is home to an incredibly rich fauna, including 400 species of birds, 54 terrestrial species of reptiles, 23 species of mammals, and many more, mostly thanks to the country being on the crossroads of two major migratory routes. Sadly though, many of these species are in danger of extinction.

Besides a land of opportunity for business investors, Sharjah is increasingly becoming a safe haven for endangered animal species. The Emirate has long implemented a formidable environmentally friendly policy that favors biodiversity. The Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) was established in the 90s by His Highness with the clear aim to protect wildlife and biodiversity while preserving natural resources through regulation. In this context, this year Sharjah has launched a number of animal conservation initiatives that are likely to place it in the spotlight of the environmental scene and to set an example for many to follow.

Sir Bu Nair, an island off the Coast North of Abu Dhabi but part of Sharjah, is one of the most highly protected areas of the UAE. The island, under EPAA, has also been listed as a potential UNESCO site thanks to its particularly rich biodiversity, which includes a spectacular coral reef, a treasure of marine life, and both native and migratory birds. In May 2016, Sir Bu Nair island hosted the 17th edition of its annual event, Sir Bu Nair Environmental Heritage Festival, one of the most important campaigns aimed at raising awareness of coastal and marine biodiversity conservation, and for two days the island’s nature reserve was open to the public.

At the same time, Sharjah was also the protagonist of another major conservation initiative as part of the Museums Department’s “Because We Care” social responsibility initiative. To mark World Turtle Day, a group of five endangered turtles were rehabilitated by marine biologists from the Sharjah Aquarium, before being released into the ocean at Hamriyah Beach. Manal Ataya, Director of Sharjah Museums Department, said these initiatives are aimed at spreading awareness among the community of the need to preserve Sharjah’s extremely rich maritime heritage.

The marine environment is not the only target of the Emirate’s environmental policies. This year also saw the inauguration of Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center, a 12sqkm conservation center and wildlife reserve in the Hajar Mountains, on the outskirts of Kalba City. These mountains were once home to more than 30 species that have been brought to the center, including the critically endangered Arabian Leopard, the Arabian wolf, the Striped Hyena, and the Arabian Tahr. Sadly, overgrazing by camels, aggressive hunting—now banned in the UAE—and other human-related activities have threatened the survival of these species, which are now almost extinct. However, Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, chairperson of EPAA, which led the project, explained to TBY that the aim is to offer these endangered species a safe haven to ensure their existence in the future. Trained guides are on hand to show visitors the reserve and answer questions about the wildlife. The center has golf carts to transport visitors around the large enclosures and see animals in their wild habitats.

These events, by engaging the population, especially young people, prove that Sharjah is on the right path, leading the way in raising awareness of environmental issues like biodiversity conservation. Only through suitable competency and most importantly through awareness and changing behavior will it be possible to avoid leaving future generations an inheritance of a natural environment damaged by the negligence of their forefathers.

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