Emirates Nature-WWF with MOCCAE reveal new habitat map of UAE coastal and marine areas during Ramsar COP 13
31 October, 2018 – Abu Dhabi, UAE: In collaboration with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, the Environment Protection and Development Authority in Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman Municipality and Umm Al Quwain Municipality, Emirates Nature-WWF hosted an event at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP13), announcing the results of the first coastal habitat map carried out in the Northern Emirates.
The coastal and marine habitat map was created over the course of a year using an innovative mapping approach consisting of integrated local ecological knowledge (LEK), satellite images and remote sensing analysis, as well as extensive ground truthing surveys, which verified on the ground the information provided through the satellite images. The combination of these various data sources resulted in the production of a detailed coastal and marine habitat map of the Northern Emirates (Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah) and provides robust and georeferenced data sets on local ecosystems and habitats. The event launching the coastal and marine habitat map of the Northern Emirates showcased how, by highlighting the range and diversity of marine and coastal ecosystems, it is a critical tool for decision making and a foundation for conservation planning, marine management and assessments of ecosystems services in the Northern Emirates and the UAE.
The coastal and marine habitat map of the Northern Emirates is also a vital instrument to support the ongoing efforts to implement UAE’s National Agenda – including the UAE’s National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP), as well as international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), The Ramsar International Convention for the Conservation of Wetlands, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Globally, habitat maps such as this are used to ensure sustainable development based on the conservation and management of coastal and marine ecosystems for the long-term benefit of society and the economy. Habitat maps provide information which can inform protected area delineation, environmental permitting, quantifying ecosystem services, estimating blue carbon (which is the the carbon captured by the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems) , detecting land degradation and habitat loss and ultimately land use and conservation planning to advance sustainable development in these areas.
The coastal and marine habitat map of the Northern Emirates mapped 783.2km of total area along a 400km coastline and identified 15 habitat types including coral reefs, mangroves, saltmarshes, coastal salt flats (sabkhas), oyster beds, hard bottom, halophyte and seagrass meadows. These rich and biodiverse areas offer multiple benefits to society including: coastal protection against storms and sea level rise, fisheries, tourism, recreation, carbon storage and the facilitation of water quality.
Additionally, and timely given the launch at the Ramsar COP13, the coastal and marine habitat map of the Northern Emirates also provides robust information from which the UAE can develop a wetlands inventory facilitating identification for new Ramsar Sites of International Importance, as well as effective management of these sites and wetlands overall.
Commenting on the project, Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Director General of Emirates Nature-WWF, said: “We are grateful to the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment and the competent environmental authorities in RAK, Sharjah, UAQ and Ajman, who have provided the drive and diligence to develop this habitat map to the highest standards. We at Emirates Nature-WWF have been pleased to partner with the UAE government in this process, together with multiple environmental organisations and other experts. This partnership has brought world-class, science-based technical expertise for the common goal of a sustainable future for coastal wetland areas in the UAE.”
His Excellency Fahed Al Hammadi, Acting Assistant Undersecretary of the Green Development and Climate Change Sector at MOCCAE, said: “The need for up-to-date habitat mapping information is critical in countries such as the UAE that have a growing appetite for development. Understanding the locations and types of coastal and marine habitats is of vital importance in estimating the impact of development on the surrounding environment. This habitat map provides a sound baseline to assess the vulnerability of coastal and marine habitats in the Northern Emirates, which will in turn, enable us to make informed decisions on a wide variety of aspects.”
Moving forwards, Emirates Nature-WWF is actively engaging with environmental authorities in the UAE to facilitate the use of the coastal and marine habitat map, exchange relevant information and produce a unified national habitat map for the UAE. Emirates Nature-WWF is also engaging with partners and local experts to gather information on marine species, as combined information on marine species movement and habitat distribution can help identify Areas of Particular Importance to Biodiversity in UAE. This information can then be used to more effectively manage critical areas for biodiversity holistically in the UAE.