On July 31, 2018, the Emirati national park Wadi Wurayrah was added to the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, becoming one of only three nature reserves in the Gulf to hold this status. UNESCO’s biosphere reserves are not only conservation sites, but also places of learning, forming the backdrop for educational programs at the nexus of science, development, and sustainability. They also differ from conventional nature reserves in encouraging local stakeholder involvement, by facilitating dialogue about conflicts over natural resources and allowing ecologically responsible cultural and commercial enterprises to operate in designated areas.
Located in Fujairah, the seventh emirate, Wadi Wurayah reflects many of these practices. Cooperatively managed by the Emirates Wildlife Society and the World Wildlife Fund since 2013, Wadi Wurayah promotes various preservation measures, as well as a string of educational initiatives that give local citizens responsibility for preserving the area. The reserve’s Water Research and Learning Center, for example, has trained over 1500 individuals to monitor the area’s key species, conduct ecological studies, and examine freshwater quality.
The approach taken in Wadi Wuryah is part of a growing trend in the UAE to promote ecological sustainability. In 2015, the Emirati government launched a seven-year ‘National Environmental Education & Awareness Strategy 2015-2021’, which aims to educate youth, as well as business developers in ecological best practices. In 2017, the Emirates passed a long-overdue bill that regulates the possession and trade of predatory, dangerous, and semi-dangerous animals, helping to significantly curb the country’s trade in exotic pets. The UAE has also established two solar parks, a wind farm, and two nuclear power plants. The nuclear plants are slated to become operational in 2020, at which point they will account for an estimated 25% of the country’s electricity demand.
While these efforts are necessary and laudable steps towards a sustainable future, they are insufficient on their own. The Emirati public must also be engaged in the country’s ecological future. Projects like Wadi Wurayah have helped increase this engagement, but more is needed to ensure that Emiratis view environmental sustainability as an important part of their daily lives.