Khor Kalba: Once a popular picnic spot, the five square kilometre green belt is now closed to the public, allowing conservation efforts to take root. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari/Gulf News

Dubai: Amidst the rugged Hajar Mountains on the east coast of the UAE lies an oasis that oozes with life of various forms. Chirping and tweeting birds, mangrove trees and the serene blue water welcome you as you enter an unique ecosystem that is known as Khor Kalba.

Once a popular picnic spot, the five square kilometre green belt is now closed to the public, allowing conservation efforts to take root.

In 2012 the site of Al Gorm and Al Hafiye, as it is official called, was declared a protected area through a resolution by His Highness Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

In March 2013, the site was added to the Ramsar list, as a wetland of international importance.

“It has been known for long as an important bird area because of the habitat, but due to continuous neglect and misuse by people visitors, the area was in really bad shape. But timely intervention has helped attract new species to the area and revive the local species,” said Ahmad Al Ali, director of Protected Areas at Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), which is looking after the conservation efforts.

Home to the oldest natural mangrove forest in the region and several avian and marine species that are unique to the site, the area is a nature-lover’s delight.

John Pereira, a researcher who is leading the conservation efforts at Khor Khalba, said: “The park is home to around 320 species and among the species unique to the area are the Arabian-Collard Kingfisher, the French-toad lizard, the Blandford’s lizard and the Mudcreeper among others. Since the conservation efforts began, we have seen a significant increase the population of the local species as well as a great influx of migratory birds.”

The precious gem is surrounded by a varied habitat, including sand dunes, an acacia forest, salt mudflats, mountains, mangroves as well as the wetland and the sea.

Before the site was closed, the area was extensively used by holidaymakers, fishermen, leaving the wildlife cornered and severely depleted.

“Since the closure of the area to the public, we have banned fishing and crab harvesting here as well as all other human activities, which has allowed the nature to come back to life again. Now we have started species’ logging, research, surveying, camera trapping and extensive monitoring, which will allow us to conserve critically endangered species like Arabian-collared Kingfisher,” added Pereira.

One of the benefits of conservation efforts can be seen in the form of mudcreepers who were once depleted and are now back in abundance.

Pereira feels the area needs to remain closed for a few more years before people can be allowed to visit through guided tours.

“We are definitely interested in getting people back. Most importantly, we need to involve the local people and make them aware of the delicate ecosystem and how important it is for the region. We are trying to educate them about the importance of mangroves and the birds of the region,” he said.