Natural Ecosystems of the UAE | WWF

Natural Ecosystems of the UAE



About the Area

The UAE forms part of the southeastern Arabian Peninsula. Its coastline runs along the Arabian Gulf and Gulf Of Oman while, on its landward side, the border is shared with the Sultanate of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The country is a federation of seven emirates - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain. The emirate of Abu Dhabi hosts the capital - Abu Dhabi city. It also constitutes about 86% of the country's landmass, and the bulk (more than 90%) of its oil reserves.

Rich, oil-producing nation, highly urbanized
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a rich, oil-producing nation that has, in the span of a decade or so, become highly urbanized with modern infrastructure.

Economic growth continues at an exceedingly rapid pace, and this is frequently at the cost of the natural environment. Marine, coastal, as well as mountain ecosystems of the country support biodiversity that needs urgent protection.
Map showing the location of the UAE in the Middle East. 
	© WWF
Map showing the location of the UAE in the Middle East.
© WWF

Desert

Located in the arid tropical zone extending across Asia and northern Africa, the UAE's major terrestrial habitat is sandy desert that supports varying amounts of sparse seasonal vegetation. Abu Dhabi Emirate includes the northwestern part of the Earth's largest sand desert - the 'Empty Quarter' or Rub al Khali. Massive forestry operations are underway to green the UAE's deserts. Farms are also being developed to provide subsidized income to local populations.
 
	© Christophe Tourenq
Ghaf trees growing on undulating sand sheets and dunes, Al Ain, UAE
© Christophe Tourenq

Sea and Coast

The Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, both part of WWF's Global 200 (Eco-region 232: Arabian Sea), have some ecosystems of biodiversity value associated with them. These are islands, coral reefs, sea grasses, intertidal areas, salt marshes, 'khors' (tidal inlets) and mangroves.
 
	© EWS-WWF
Qarnein
© EWS-WWF

Freshwater

Permanent freshwater is scarce in the UAE. However, some running water persists through the year in deep gorges of 'wadis' (valleys) in the mountains. Apart from 'wadis,' there are 'sabkhas' (salt flats, on which rain water may sometimes stagnate) and artificial lakes that constitute freshwater wetland ecosystems.

'Sabkhas' of UAE are the world's best developed and largest. Most of the UAE's wetlands - marine, coastal and freshwater - are described in A Directory of Wetlands in the Middle Eas (Scott, 1995).
 
	© EWS-WWF
Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates
© EWS-WWF

Mountain

The Hajjar Mountains, forming a barrier in the west of the UAE, act as a rain catchment area. Run-off from the range is the only source that replenishes groundwater. Wildlife adapted to mountain systems and their freshwater habitats - pools, 'wadis' and springs - consist of dragonfly, toad and fish species.

Also, the very rugged nature of the mountains makes them a perfect refuge for discrete or persecuted wildlife such as the Arabian leopard and the endemic Arabian tahr. Another Global 200 is represented in the UAE -Ecoregion 127: Arabian Highland Woodlands and Shrublands, shared with Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
 
	© EWS-WWF
Wadi Wurayah, Fujairah, UAE
© EWS-WWF