Critically endangered hawksbills turtles being released into their natural habitat near the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary. Image Credit: Courtesy: Emirates Marine Environmental Group/Gulf News archives

Dubai: The Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary in Dubai on Sunday was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, sending a message to the world that urban development can be done without compromising the environment and biodiversity.

The announcement of the inclusion of the Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary to the Ramsar list on Sunday was made on the sidelines of the 13th edition of the Ramsar conference held in Dubai, which saw the gathering of more than 1,000 delegates from around the world.

Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Eng. Dawood Abdul Rahman Al Hajiri, Director-General of Dubai Municipality, and Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary-General of Ramsar, made the announcement on Monday.

“The Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary is located close to one of the major development projects in Dubai. It sends a message to the world that development and the economical growth within the UAE and Dubai is growing while at the same time we’re looking after the environment and biodiversity. So balance is always vital and important,” Dr Al Zeyoudi told Gulf News.

The Jebel Ali Wildlife Sanctuary is a 2,002-hectare wetland that covers the marine area between the Palm Jebel Ali and up to the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border to the southwest of Dubai.

It is where the Ghantoot Marine Reserve is located. It is a coastal and marine wetland that has coral reefs, mangroves, shallow lagoons, seagrass beds, oyster beds, and sandy shorelines that provide shelter to 539 marine species such as the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, the endangered mottled eagle ray, and green turtle.

The site is under the management of Dubai Municipality, which facilitated for the inclusion of the wetlands in the Ramsar list. Al Hajiri said the site is open to the public and plans are underway to make the site more ecotourism friendly.

“Right now it’s a wetland, you cannot go around it. You can only see it from the back. But hopefully in the coming months, we’ll try to make it easier for tourists to come there,” Al Hajiri said.

Critically endangered hawksbills turtles being released into their natural habitat near the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary. Courtesy: Emirates Marine Environmental Group/Gulf News archives

Now that the Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary is recognised globally as an important wetland due to its ecological and biological significance, protecting it will be a global action as well.

“Conserving this ecosystem is also crucial for the survival of the species it supports. As a protected area, it means that the management of Jebel Ali will take guidance from the Ramsar Convention’s framework,” Urrego said.

Any marine territory that becomes included in the Ramsar list acquires a new national and international status because of its significant value not only to the country where it is located but ‘for humanity as a whole’.

While the Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctury is open to the public for viewing, officials encouraged everyone to be mindful and responsible when visiting.

“The protection of environments is the responsibility of everyone. It’s not a single authority’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of everyone. They have to look after the environment. We’re all around the world connected by air and water and even the biodiversity is connecting us. So they have to look after the environment because it’s their responsibility to maintain it for the future,” Dr Al Zeyoudi said.