A Shared Commitment to Protecting the Environment
Similar to the United States, the UAE has a strong tradition of conservationism. UAE organizations have partnered with environmental groups in the US and around the globe for decades to revitalize habitats, protect threatened species and preserve our planet. Within the UAE, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is working to preserve the local coastal and marine ecosystem through coral reef rehabilitation, mangrove cultivation, and installing artificial caves. In February 2020, a group of leading conservationists and zoologists from the US traveled to the UAE to learn about the country’s wildlife management and conservation efforts.
In 2020, the UAE Embassy, The United Way of Collier County and the Keys and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the UAE was granting $3.5 million in funds to restore and preserve 100 miles of coral reef in the Florida Keys. Once a thriving ecosystem, only two percent of the area’s reef has survived hurricanes, aquatic health issues and human interaction. In revitalizing North America’s only barrier reef, restoration experts and local communities will work hand-in-hand over the course of five years to build up 500,000 coral clusters. The gift is part of a larger pledge to the state of Florida for Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
The UAE’s role in restoring the reef will extend far beyond the seafloor. Part of the funding will go towards establishing educational initiatives in marine science to engage youth, including a UAE-supported scholarship fund for students in Monroe County pursuing marine science degrees at state universities. Funds will also go towards developing a Coral Restoration Learning Exchange Program between the UAE and the Coral Restoration Consortium (CRC). Restoring the coral reefs will also have a significant economic impact in the Keys, where tourism is a key industry and the ocean environment supports more than half of all local jobs.
Closer to home, the UAE launched the Fujairah Cultured Coral Reef Gardens project in 2019. The five-year project involves the cultivation of 1.5 million coral reef colonies spanning 300,000 square meters. Conservationists from the Florida Keys in the United States will join marine biologists in the Emirates to establish the world’s largest artificial reef.
The UAE’s work with conservationists extends back decades. Founded in 2008, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund provides grants to organizations around the world working with threatened plant and animal species. As of 2020, the Fund has awarded nearly $20 million to over 2,000 conservation projects, including 37 in the US. The fund has helped species ranging from giant sea bass living off the coasts of Mexico and California to the ‘ohe mauka plants native to Hawaii. The latest addition to the list is the world’s rarest duck, the Madagascar pochard, that has taken a small step away from the threat of extinction, thanks to a conservation project supported by the Fund.
The UAE also supports the worldwide effort to save the Arabian oryx, a desert antelope that became extinct in the wild in the early 1970s. Thanks to groundbreaking work at the San Diego and Phoenix zoos, experts have reintroduced the animal into the Middle East, including the UAE, over the last 40 years. UAE founder Sheikh Zayed personally supported the project, breeding oryx himself and founding the Sir Bani Yas nature reserve in 1977. Thanks to decades of conservation work, the UAE today is home to 7,500 of these stunning creatures, and the Sir Bani Yas island has become a cradle of biodiversity teeming with wildlife and several million trees and plants. For his dedication to conservation, the late Sheikh Zayed became the first head of state to receive the World Wildlife Fund’s Golden Panda award in 1997.
Aside from the Arabian oryx, the UAE’s conservation programs target a variety of threatened species saving them from extinction. These include the International Fund for the Conservation of Houbara, the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Program and the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Additionally, UAE conservation efforts extend to marine turtles and dugongs. In 2019, over 80 marine turtles were rehabilitated and returned to the waters of the Arabian Gulf, also home to the second largest dugong population in the world after Australia.