In 2007, the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai became the first UAE wetland to be named by Ramsar as a site of international importance. Three years later, Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah, was added by Ramsar to its list.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi and the Mangrove and Alhafeya Protected Area in Khor Kalba, Sharjah, were added to the list this year.
The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and the Convention’s member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet The Convention on Wetlands came into force for the United Arab Emirates on 29 December 2007. The UAE’s four sites designated as a Wetland of International Importance, have a surface area of 15,014 hectares.
The Ramsar Convention, according to its own mission statement, embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.
Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the “biodiversity-related cluster” of treaties and agreements.
Following is the Annotated Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in the UAE, last updated by Ramsar on 29/04/2013: The data provided at the beginning of each paragraph include: site; date of designation; region, province, state; surface area; coordinates.
== Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. 25/04/2013; Emirates of Abu Dhabi; 500 ha; 24 15’41″N 54 35’08″E.
Protected Area. A complex of natural and human-made surface water bodies located approximately 40 km southeast of Abu Dhabi city. Formerly a salt flat (‘sabkha’ in Arabic) that used to flood only during winter rainfall, it is now maintained by a regular supply of tertiary treated freshwater from a nearby sewage treatment plant. This regulation of the water level results in hypersaline, brackish and freshwater habitat of varying depths, providing an ideal site for many wetland dependent species within a hyper-arid biogeographic region. The area was declared as a reserve after the first successful breeding of the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) there in 1998, marking the first known successful breeding of this species in the Arabian Peninsula since 1922. Threatened wildlife can be seen, including the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarious) and the vulnerable Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga). The site also regularly supports breeding populations of the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrines) and Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta). Access to the general public is currently limited to educational tours and bird watching groups; however, a future visitor centre is being planned to encourage tourism. Ramsar Site no. 2142. Most recent RIS information: 2013.
== Mangrove and Alhafeya Protected Area in Khor Kalba. 10/03/2013; Emirate of Sharjah; 1,494 ha; 24 59’54″N 56 21’45″E. National Protected Area.
Located in the far east of the country near the border with Oman, the site comprises coastal subtidal, intertidal (sand beach, mangroves, mud and tidal channels), supratidal sand, salt marsh and saline flats, as well as encompassing a narrow alluvial plain dominated by Acacia woodland. The Avicennia marina mangrove trees found in Kalba are the tallest and comprise the most extensive mature woodland in the biogeographic region; they provide breeding, nursery and feeding grounds for several fish and invertebrate species, besides protecting the coastline from storm damage and erosion while trapping sediments washed off the land. The critically endangered Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and endangered Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) can be observed near the mouth of the mangrove’s inlet, entering the creeks at high tide to feed on sea grasses and algae. The area is of great ornithological interest, and an endemic subspecies, the White-collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris kalbaensis, breeds almost exclusively at this site, which is also one of just two breeding localities in the region for Sykes’s Warbler Hippolais rama. The management and monitoring of this site is carried out with the involvement of the local residents, and an educational visitor centre is planned. Ramsar Site no. 2125. Most recent RIS information: 2013.
== Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. 29/08/2007; Emirate of Dubai; 620 ha; 25 11’30″N 055 19’20″E. National Protected Area.
Located at the end of the 14 km-long Dubai creek within the northern part of the Emirate of Dubai. A rare site in the arid Gulf region, this natural coastal wetland consists of low-lying saline flats, lagoon, intertidal mud and sand flats and mangrove swamps that serve as an important habitat for more than 450 species of fauna and 47 species of flora. During winter, it regularly supports more than 20,000 waterbirds belonging to 67 species and acts as a critical staging ground for migratory waterbirds along the East African-West Asian Flyway. A number of globally threatened species such as the Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius and Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga are seen in the area; more than 3,000 Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus ruber have been counted, and more than 1% of the regional population of Broad-billed Sandpipers Limicola falcinellus migrate through in autumn and spring. Located in the heart of Dubai city, the site receives an average of 10,000 visitors annually and is a valuable conservation and educational center. A visitor center that will serve as the Regional Center for Excellence in Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) is planned with the goal of promoting awareness of wetland ecosystems and wetland management in the Arab region. Ramsar Site no. 1715. Most recent RIS information: 2012.
== Wadi Wurayah National Park. 07/10/2010; Emirate of Fujairah; 12,700 ha; 25?24’N 056?15’E. National Protected Area.
The area’s geology has created a unique hydrogeological system that allows run-off water to emerge between impermeable and permeable rock creating fresh water streams, pools and waterfalls, all of which are uncommon in an arid region. The diversity of fresh water habitats provide important spawning ground for fish such as Garra barreimiae (Cyprinidae) which is threatened and endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, including seven newly discovered insect species of which four (Order: Ephemeroptera) have water dependent larval stages. The site supports 11 threatened species of mammals, such as the Arabian Tahr (Hemitrgus jayakari). So far, 73 species of birds such as the endangered Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) have been recorded. The Park hosts 17 reptile species such as the Bar-tailed Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus celerrimus) and at least two amphibian species, all which are endemic to the UAE and Northern Oman. The site is a rich archaeological site with 29 heritage sites such as Islamic graveyards, petroglyphs and settlements dating as far as the Iron Age (1,300-500BC). Occasionally, locals venture to the site to collect medicinal plants, wild honey and fodder for livestock. Threats to the site include water exploitation, rock extraction and wildlife poaching. The National Park is owned by Fujairah Emirate. The Environment Protection and Development Department of Fujairah Municipality is responsible for managing this site. Ramsar Site no. 1932. Most recent RIS information: 2010.