The Ecotourism Zone at the Mleiha National Park will offer eco-stays, adventures and educational activities. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: As plans for the development of the Mleiha desert into a grand national park firm up, authorities in Sharjah have revealed how it will be a sustainability-focused reserve dedicated to protecting the area’s 200,000-year history.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), has stated that the establishment of the Mleiha National Park reinforces Sharjah and Shurooq’s commitment to championing sustainability and preserving the UAE’s and the region’s rich historical heritage for generations to come.

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Mleiha National Park will be the first-of-its-kind protected area in the emirate of Sharjah that promotes the conservation of Sharjah’s natural history and preservation of its archaeological past.

The 34sqkm desert in Sharjah’s central region, in parts of which archaeologists unearthed the earliest evidence of human occupation outside Africa, is being developed as a national park following Emiri Decree No. 16 of 2024 issued earlier this week by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.

The Mleiha desert is being developed as a national park following Emiri Decree No. 16 of 2024 issued earlier this week by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. Image Credit: Supplied

Construction update

Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, CEO of Shurooq, participating in a call to Sharjah TV’s ‘Direct Line’ programme, said the project was making brisk progress.

He noted that construction and development are underway and fencing of the park’s 34km premises will be complete by the third quarter of 2024.

The park will include three separate areas: The Core Conservation Zone, focused on preserving the natural environment and supporting wildlife; the Ecotourism Zones, offering eco-stays, adventures and educational activities; and the Hybrid Zone, which serves as a middle ground for conservation and sustainable tourism practices.

He said, “Mleiha National Park, which Shurooq is developing under the directives of Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, demonstrates Sharjah’s commitment to protecting our national and historical treasures for UAE’s future generations. This project reflects our vision of supporting eco-tourism and enhancing the country’s leadership in heritage and green tourism.”

Al Qaseer highlighted that the park will introduce a wide-ranging programme of educational and recreational activities, as well as opportunities for scientific research. The destination will uphold the highest environmental, social and governance standards in delivering its guest experiences, he further affirmed sharing that these strategies are poised to boost the region’s appeal, open new market opportunities, and foster investment and growth.

Sustainability practices

The Shurooq chairperson said, “The future of regional and global economies hinges upon our commitment to bring sustainability practices to the front and centre of commercial activity across sectors. In the leisure and tourism industries, in particular, we need to continually look into ways to design projects that promote comprehensive sustainable development, not just GDP. Here in Sharjah, which is endowed with immense historical and natural wealth, we continually strive to boost its global status as a top destination for investment and tourism in the historical and cultural sectors”.

Boasting one of the region’s oldest historical and anthropological heritage sites, Mleiha is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominee list.

“We welcome the world to discover fascinating remnants of some of the earliest human settlements, from over 200,000 years ago, which were established here in the UAE. The Mleiha National Park is going to be a living and lasting testimony to the formative role and unparalleled significance of the UAE and the region to global civilisational history”, Sheikha Bodour noted.

Conservation at heart

As per the law, activities and actions that would hamper the aesthetic value of the park are prohibited. This is particularly applicable to hunting, transporting, damaging or destroying geological or geographic formations or areas that are considered shelters for animal or plant species or for their reproduction; pollution of soil, water or air; military manoeuvres and shooting training; and cutting or destroying trees or plants, or eroding the soil.

The national park will be a safe habitat for the area's wildlife. Image Credit: Supplied

It also prohibits leisure and entertainment activities or sports that may kill, harm, or negatively affect wildlife; establishing buildings or facilities, constructing roads, operating vehicles or means of transportation, or carrying out any agricultural, industrial, or commercial activities in the park except with a permit from the competent authority in the emirate in accordance with the conditions, rules and procedures determined by a decision of its president.

According to the decree, activities, actions, or works in the areas surrounding the park that affect its aesthetic value are not permissible except with a permit from the competent authority and without prejudice to any penalty stipulated in any other legislation. Anyone who violates these provisions shall be punished with the administrative penalties stipulated in the table attached to the decree.

The 34sqkm desert in Sharjah’s central region threw up the earliest evidence of human occupation outside Africa. Image Credit: Supplied

The Mleiha National Park’s distinctive conservation plan, inspired by ongoing reasearch, underscores its commitment to responsible stewardship. Key highlights include an overarching conservation strategy, restoration of native plant life, wildlife reintroduction programmes, and comprehensive protection of geological formations. Shurooq has meticulously planned the phased reintroduction of wildlife and the regulation of tourism activities to ensure a robust balance between exploration and preservation.

The destination’s existing assets - the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, Moon Retreat, Al Faya Retreat, Sky Adventures, Glamping Area, and Mleiha Camping Site will continue to be integral components of the national park to offer visitors and vacationers an authentic platform for discovery, exchange, and nurturing experiences. They will be merged with new natural, scientific and economic capabilities as part of Shurooq’s central objective to continue empowering local communities.

Set to be one of the region’s most prized archaeological assets upon completion, the Mleiha National Park will bestow new capabilities naturally, scientifically, and economically, becoming an authentic platform for discovery, exchange, and nurturing experiences. It will preserve and conserve the story of early humanity, archaeology, and Mleiha’s natural heritage for the world’s future generations. The decision to enclose the Mleiha desert area within a fenced protective zone is driven by these ideals and the authority’s commitment to preserving historical sites and fostering unique and sustainable ecotourism.