Fujairah: From a distance, the mountainside looked like a slice of rich chocolate cake, complete with layers of nuts, in this case compacted rocks and sediment, and covered on top with dark chocolate icing, which are actually rocks that had turned rustic in colour due to oxidation.
This is just one facet of the Wadi Wurayah National Park, a rare beauty and gem nestled on the Hajar Mountain range and crafted by nature for millions of years.
“This piece of the Hajar Mountain, between Oman and UAE, is the biggest exposed ophiolite complex in the world. It’s like heaven for geologists because you come here and you see everything as it is,” Maral Chreiki, Conservation and Operation Manager of Wadi Wurayah National Park, told Gulf News while touring the team around the park.
Ophiolites are rare sequences of rocks formed when tectonic forces pushed upward a section of the Earth’s upper mantle, oceanic crust and overlying sediments.
The ophiolite complex between Dhaid and Dibba is the world’s best exposed ophiolite complex which gives geologists like Chreiki a unique opportunity to study rocks from deep within the Earth.
The ridges were created by another natural wonder, the Wadi Wurayah, a permanent freshwater stream bed. Wadi Wurayah contains 371 separate streams running a total of 301km that branch out from six main wadis, according to the Hydrological Sciences Journal.
Apart from its geological importance, Wadi Wurayah has a rich archaeological and ecological importance. Archaeological sites discovered in the wadi date as far back as 300BC. Even the country’s oldest mosque, the Al Bidiya Mosque, is located just 2km from the park’s border.
“Civilisations started in rich areas like this [Wadi Wurayah] and this is what we should be proud of. We should protect it for the next generations, for the future,” Chreiki said, as he continued with the tour.
Along the way, wet tracks of a fox on a muddy patch brought the tour to a halt. Dr Jacky Judas, Research Manager at the park who has been doing an inventory on its flora and fauna, assessed its size but could not ascertain which fox it was — yet.
Camera traps placed across the park have captured images of the Blandford fox, Gordon’s wildcat, hedgehogs, Caracal lynx and goats.
Since 2009, the team has identified and listed 860 species in the national park. Of these, there are 208 plants, 19 mammals, 17 reptiles, 3 fishes, 2 amphibians, and 94 birds, while the rest are invertebrates.
“The Hajar Mountains has been recognised as a specific habitat which has a group of species living together. This is the Arabian highlands and shrub lands ecosystem. So this is rare and it’s well representative of this particular ecosystem, with different species that are well adapted to the aridity of the region because you have low rainfall,” Dr Judas told Gulf News.
Wadi Wurayah, which derived its name from ‘wurayah’, the Arabic word for reeds, is the country’s first Mountain Protected Area as declared by His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Fujairah, in March 2009.
And where there are reeds, there are dragonflies, a host of them, in fact. Recent wildlife surveys show that 22 of the 30 known dragonflies worldwide can be found here.
A dragonfly called Urothemis thomasi, which sports a bright red orange body and tail, has been spotted in Wadi Wurayah. It is considered a species new to the UAE, only previously recorded in a few sites in Oman. It was thought to be extinct and has not been recorded anywhere since 1957.
The presence of these dragonflies and damselflies signify that the water that streams through the wadi is of good quality as they require pristine water to thrive. They are also a good indication of the quality of the habitat.
But all the economic development, the construction of highways and roads as a result of urbanisation has impacted this, Chreiki said.
“We are forcing these ecosystems to shrink. We are using their resources. Our role, as much as the damage is done, basically, is to fix the damage,” Chreiki said.
Other threats include poaching, overgrazing, human encroachment and littering forced the Government of Fujairah and the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS-WWF), which manages its conservation efforts, to close the park to the public indefinitely in December last year.
The team fragmented the park in order to better manage and monitor it. Park rangers scout the area regularly to make sure that the wadi and its inhabitants are protected.
“What happened is, we came into the picture and we started to change things. Our role is to manage these changes. This is what makes our job complicated,” Chreiki said.
Common practices of the local population that harm the wadi needed to be stopped through education, including what would seem an innocent joke, Chreiki said.
“At one stage, there was a goldfish here. Somebody placed into the wadi his goldfish and shark fish that you get from a pet shop.”
“At that time, we were removing the invasive species. So he came and saw us doing it, he was not happy. ‘Why did you remove my fish?’ he asked. And then, we said, ‘Oh, is this your fish?’ He said yes. We asked him why he did it and he said because it made the pool look nicer,” Chreiki said.
“When people come to nature, they damage it unfortunately. This is something we need to manage and control. If they don’t leave a trace, if they respect nature, there’s no need for us here. ”
The team is progressing well in restoring the wadi to its original state. But they still have a long way to go, Chreiki said.
“With such a complexity in a big area, you need always to work on the long-term because to force a change or to make a change, you need to make it a gradual process, either it’s for raising awareness or reducing the damage by managing some activities.”
“Where we are right now, we have just started and have put plans on the table and we are working to make these plans come true. And this is a long and painful process that requires a lot of funds and a lot of cooperation as well from everybody.”