There’s no denying that nature matters to every one of us. It provides all the things we need to live — from the air we breathe to the water we drink. It provides the foundations for our economic prosperity, and it also plays a crucial role in trying to keep climate change in check. Quite simply, we need nature to survive and thrive.
Looking back at 2018, we most certainly had a busy, challenging and exciting year. Thanks to our incredible partners, I’m humbled and proud of our many accomplishments during the last year, taking us a step closer to realising a sustainable environment. We owe this to our strong ‘can do’ attitude. In 2018, we rebranded to Emirates Nature-WWF, a brand that reflects the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s environmental legacy, underlining the urgency of our goals through a refreshed strategy that aims to build a sustainable home for generations to come. That said, there is, however, a sobering reality ‘out there’ as 2018 came to a close.
A year of numerous triumphs
Over the past year, the support and contributions of both our new and long-standing partners helped us drive change across our pillars of climate change and energy, marine life, terrestrial conservation and education in line with the national agenda.
Among our key successes is our partnership with the UAE Ministry of Energy and Industry, which saw us release a joint report highlighting innovative policies, incentives, and technologies that could accelerate the UAE’s progress towards its renewable energy target by 2050.
Gulf Green turtles
Our Gulf Green Turtle project supported the UAE National Plan of Action for turtles, which addresses the long-term conservation of the species and continues to provide insightful data on population, distribution and behaviour of marine turtles and their habitats in the region. Over three years, we have successfully tagged 46 adults and one juvenile green turtles in total — 12 of which were tagged in 2018.
But that’s not all. We always aim to increase awareness of the harmful effects of plastic pollution, including the consequences of throwing away plastic bags and how households can change the growing problem of unnecessary waste. We’re incredibly proud of the strong coalition of partners we have at Emirates Nature-WWF. Throughout 2018, our Re-Think Plastic initiative has succeeded in reducing the use of plastic bags by customers across our partners’ retail stores and generated vital information for future policies.
2018 also saw us reveal a new habitat map on UAE coastal and marine areas of the Northern Emirates during the Ramsar COP13. Habitat maps are quite simply the foundation for managing natural ecosystems. It is a critical tool for decision-making and a foundation for conservation planning, marine management and assessments of ecosystems.
We are also proud of the achievements made in Wadi Wurayah. These again are a testament to the hard work of multiple sectors including government, the private sector, other NGOs, academia and individuals. Thanks to our joint efforts, Wadi Wurayah has been declared the first designated protected mountain area in the Gulf Cooperation Council and a Unesco Biosphere Reserve!
Connect with Nature
And finally, we launched Connect with Nature, a truly iconic and innovative education initiative that aims to bring to life a special journey where youth can discover the magic of nature around them while taking ownership of their conservation efforts. This initiative could only come to life with the support of Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi, who cofounded the programme with us and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, who are our strategic partners. Both organisations share our vision of investing in the youth and are committed to building a sustainable future for the coming generations.
Spearheading the journey to change
As we look around us, there exists a perception of the UAE, our home, to be an urban jungle, and while we are incredibly proud of the futuristic vision of our leaders, it is easy for us to sometimes forget where we came from. The land that our forefathers built their legacies out of, a land that is made up of fragile coastal habitats, vast deserts and deep wadis that define the shape of our natural heritage — we must not forget those roots.
Nature has been telling us repeatedly: Human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge. In just over 40 years, the world has witnessed 60 per cent decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater. This has happened in less than a generation.
Partnerships and collaborations play a key role in our efforts to influence the course of conservation in the UAE, and I am incredibly grateful for their generous support throughout the past year. Lasting conservation impact is achieved through collaboration with a range of extraordinary partners. We leverage the strengths of these collaborations to achieve our shared success.
Our plans and projects for 2019 and 2020, which will further advance the vital marine and terrestrial conservation efforts across the UAE, include: A new marine project that aims to conserve the critically important sea and land ecosystem of Sir Bu Nair Island. Our team will be conducting scientific research in partnerships with EPAA and EMEG, which will inform management and business plans for the island in Sharjah. We will also be launching a terrestrial conservation project in the UAE’s majestic Hajar Mountain range. The biodiversity survey — which our team will spearhead — will fill the gap of knowledge on species occurrence, distribution and status to identify key important areas of biodiversity for protection. Throughout 2019, we have an exciting plan to continue our new educational campaign titled ‘Connect with Nature’, in partnership with Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi. The campaign will focus on encouraging Emirati youth to re-connect with their natural heritage through innovative ways. Join us with your family at Umm Al Emarat Park on January 19 for the community launch, which will be taking place as part of the ripe market.
Laila Mostafa Abdullatif is the director general at Emirates Nature-WWF.