ABU DHABI — Environmental experts estimate that one in seven species of birds, one in four mammal species and one in three amphibian species in the world are facing extinction now. Quite a few such species are in the UAE like the Socotran cormorant, the Arabian tahr, the Arabian oryx, the Arabian leopard, dugongs and the Hawksbill turtle, as well as many other types of reptiles, fishes, amphibians and invertebrates.
To discuss the status of the world’s wildlife and how to best protect it, some of these experts are now in Abu Dhabi for a six-day conference on global species conservation, which began on Thursday.
Hosted by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), the participants are members of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN-SSC).
“Slime mold specialists, rust and smut specialists, antelope authorities, equid experts, I welcome you all to Abu Dhabi,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary-general of EAD, adding that these specialists are world experts on almost every conceivable creature or plant on the planet.
“This meeting will set the global species conservation agenda for the next four years and the EAD is proud to support it,” she mentioned.
The biodiversity team of the EAD initiated the presentations outlining some of the UAE’s key flora and fauna and the efforts to protect them. The country’s 650 kilometres of Arabian Gulf waters and 90 kilometres of Gulf of Oman waters are home to four species of dolphins, two species of turtles, three species of sea snakes and the threatened dugong. The presence of dugongs is synonymous with clean and healthy ocean floor, but the fact that their population is getting smaller is worrying. Abu Dhabi still has the second largest population of dugongs after Australia, but many of them die at an average age of 47, while the life expectancy of this herbivorous marine mammal is 70 years. The main cause of death (73 per cent) is drowning, largely because of being caught in illegal fishing nets.
The other biodiversity programmes run by the EAD include satellite tracking of migratory birds (there are 441 species of birds in the UAE and 25 per cent of them breed locally), coral reef protection and, more recently, the first comprehensive survey of shark species in the Arabian Gulf.
“We are continually impressed with Abu Dhabi’s strong support of species conservation both locally and internationally,” said Dr Simon Stuart, chairman of the IUCN-SSC.
“Abu Dhabi has been instrumental in regional efforts to bring the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction. Its efforts with locally threatened species such as the dugong, houbara bustard and Hawksbill turtles are also very impressive. Perhaps, more important is Abu Dhabi’s established long-term commitment to global species conservation,” he added.