EWS-WWF is grateful to HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah for signing the decree and officially declaring Wadi Wurayah the first Mountain Protected Area in the UAE.
On March 16, 2009, Wadi Wurayah in the emirate of Fujairah, was designated a Protected Area, becoming the first Mountain Protected Area of the United Arab Emirates. This marked the successful conclusion of a project, spanning three years, fully sponsored by HSBC Bank Middle East Limited.
The project began in 2006 when Fujairah Municipality and EWS-WWF assessed the value of Wadi Wurayah for nature conservation and for its establishment as the country’s first Mountain Protected Area. The Protected Area extends over 129 km² in the northern part of Fujairah emirate between the towns of Khor Fakhan and Bidiyah along the Oman Gulf coastline of Fujairah.
In these respects, the Wadi was found to be of great natural, historical and cultural importance, possessing rare and endangered wildlife species, archaeological sites and cultural heritage; a management plan for the proposed Wadi Wurayah Protected Area was prepared, as well as a draft of the legal decree for its designation.
The long term aim of the Wadi Wurayah Mountain Protected Area is the realisation of a restored, protected and sustainably managed freshwater ecosystem that would: support rich biodiversity; provide environmental services and socio-economic opportunities; serve as a replicable example of sustainable freshwater ecosystem management; and build local government capacity in designing and managing protected areas.
The specific objectives are:
- Increase capacity for long-term sustainable management
- Reduce threats to the Wadi Wurayah freshwater ecosystem
- Deliver a successful field project
Throughout the course of the project, there were many exciting findings. Identified were nine different freshwater habitat types with exceptionally good water quality. Hydro-chemical analyses indicate that the spring waters meet all World Health Organisation standards for drinking and bottled water!
Wadi Wurayah is of considerable ecological significance allowing some of the rarest species found in the UAE, Arabian Peninsula and the world to survive this harsh climate. Over the past three years, we have revealed so far within the erstwhile proposed protected area, the presence of 12 species of mammals (out of a total of 20 observed, or suspected to exist, in the region).
Of those recorded, 60% are of international or national concern, including flagship species such as the Arabian Tahr, Mountain Gazelle, Caracal Lynx, Blanford’s Fox and, possibly, the Arabian Leopard.
The Wadi Wurayah Mountain Protected Area is already known to be one of the world’s three remaining strongholds of Arabian Tahr. As it turned out, these were valuable findings; but there was much more to come.
Of the 75 species of birds recorded within the Wadi Wurayah region, 5% are considered endangered worldwide by the IUCN and 24 % are of conservation concern for the UAE.
Furthermore, the observation of two skink species – Tesselated Mabuya and Ocellated Skink – never before recorded in the area, added two more to the list of 17 wild reptile and amphibian species of which the following five are endemic to the UAE mountains and northern Oman: Oman Saw-scaled Viper, Blue-tailed Lizard, Bar-tailed Semaphore Gecko, Rock Semaphore Gecko, Banded Ground Gecko.
Garra barreimiae, the only fish species present in Wadi Wurayah, was observed. A total of 74 terrestrial invertebrate families belonging to 12 different orders were identified, and, if that’s not enough, 30 arthropod species have been recorded so far, 14 of which were first discovered and described in the wadi for the first time.
Two new insect species have been discovered in the wadi; a tiny, 2 millimetre long aquatic beetle (Coleoptera): Ochthebius wurayah, and a wasp specie commonly known as a “velvet ant” (Hymenoptera), approximately 5 millimetres long: Nanomutilla wurayahensis
More than 300 species of plants have been recorded in the area, including species that are found only in wetlands such as Typha dominginsis and the unique orchid species of UAE: Epipactis veratrifolia .
While the biodiversity of Wadi Wurayah is exceptional, its cultural value cannot be underestimated. Because of the presence of permanent water, the wadi has been used by local communities since time immemorial.
An EWS-WWF and Fujairah Municipality team surveyed 29 heritage sites ranging from pre- Islamic tombs of a Late Pre-Islamic date (i.e. post 300 BC to ca 500 – 600 AD) to Bedouin settlements from the early 1980s. Artefacts were also identified as being 15th – 18th century AD porcelain and 14th - 17th century AD pottery fragments.
Wadi Wurayah is, however, not without threats, the main ones being overexploitation of water resources, overgrazing of domestic animals, hunting, habitat degradation (littering, fires), quarrying, habitat fragmentation, urbanisation and the introduction of invasive species.
Given the biological and cultural wealth and its vulnerability to anthropogenic pressures, protection to Wadi Wurayah could not have been more timely.