UAE: Al Wathba reserve with rare 120,000-year-old fossil dunes opens to public

The protected area offers a view of 1,700 fossil dunes that could date back to the Ice Age


A Staff Reporter

Published: Tue 1 Feb 2022, 8:51 PM

Last updated: Wed 2 Feb 2022, 10:32 AM

More than1,700 fossil dunes spread over seven square kilometres with fossil formations that could be traced back to the Ice Age: This is what the country’s first-of-the-kind fossil dunes protected area has to offer for visitors.

Located 45 kilometres to the east of Abu Dhabi, Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Protected Area is one of first in West Asia. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), inaugurated the project.

Specialists estimate the age of fossil formations within the protected location trace back to the Ice Age from around 120,000 years ago.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed also toured the area that houses a main visitor centre and several facilities such as the viewing area and the gallery corner, as well as benches and several scenic areas.

The Protected Area will welcome visitors throughout the week, from 10am until 10pm. On official holidays (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) the site will be open until 12am in the evening, granting free entry and a unique model of eco-tourism.

Visitors can also enjoy music and light shows which will take place throughout opening hours and can be viewed from the amphitheatre area, which holds up to 200 visitors. The site will also feature various food and beverage trucks in dedicated areas.

Throughout the site, the educational aspect will be emphasised with numerous awareness and guiding posters, in addition to the opportunity to read the latest publications by the EAD.

The agency also launched a media campaign to raise public awareness of the site and its importance, mainly through the EAD's social media platforms. It asserted the need to avoid climbing the fossil formations, throwing garbage or organizing any activities or events at the site. EAD emphasized the necessity of keeping the site clean and not committing any violations that may jeopardize or negatively impact the fossil dunes and the site's safety and sustainability.

Fossil dunes are outcrops of lightly cemented, cross-bedded dune sands, formed by the deposits of calcium carbonate and other salts from ground water during the glacial period. The formations in Al Wathba area derive their shape from the interaction between wind force and sediment supply.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed said: “The inauguration of the Fossil Dunes Protected Area comes with the aim of protecting the natural heritage of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and encouraging eco-tourism. Abu Dhabi is rich and offers a unique diversity in its environments, habitats and natural features with impressive natural formations, including the wonderful fossil dunes. These dunes are composed of rare sand formations densely located in Al Wathba area, to the south of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and can also be found in other areas in the emirate. These fossil dunes have been classified EAD’s Habitat Map and serve as an important habitat for several wildlife species.”

The Protected Area, which is one of the key components of Abu Dhabi and the UAE's natural heritage, is listed in the third category of natural reserves (geological features), according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature's criteria. The area is also nominated to be listed in UNESCO's Global List of Geoparks.

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