The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), the authority mandated to protect and conserve biodiversity in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, has announced its support towards the development of a one-of-its-kind online portal that will provide the latest information on global Waterbird Population Estimates (WPE). Within the UAE, the digital platform will provide opportunities for the identification of new Ramsar wetland sites, which requires the most up-to-date information on local waterbird species.
The announcement follows the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP13) held in Dubai this October. The agreement underscores EAD’s commitment to protecting Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity, particularly the inland and coastal wetlands, as well as local and international efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change given the wetlands’ ability to store and sequester carbon.
As outlined in the Ramsar Convention, a wetland is considered internationally important if it supports one per cent of a waterbird species population. This one percent threshold is fundamental in identifying and establishing a site as Ramsar-protected, as it appears in six of the nine international criteria stipulated in the Ramsar Convention.
"Governments of the Ramsar Convention worldwide need up-to-date information on waterbirds to identify, designate and manage wetlands to the list of internationally important wetlands or Ramsar sites. Wetlands International is delighted to receive the generous support from the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, as this will enable us to create a new interactive Information Portal, which will make this kind of available information accessible to all. We look forward to develop the portal in the very near future," Jane Madgwick, Chief Executive, Wetlands International.
Upon completion, the portal will host data for nearly 800 waterbird species and 2300 biogeographic populations worldwide. It would be the first time that waterbird population estimates would be available online for use in research, decision-making and the identification of new Ramsar sites, which will benefit all 174 Ramsar range countries, as well as non-Ramsar parties.
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said, "The world is evolving rapidly our changing habits and lifestyles are having an enormous impact on our coastal and inland wetland environments. The ability to monitor current and readily-available data on species native to these habitats, such as waterbird population estimates, would allow decision-makers to take critical actions towards the protection and conservation of wetlands. As such, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi’s work in the estimation and monitoring of waterbird populations has been key to Al Wathba and Bul Syayeef being designated as Ramsar sites."
There has not been a proper review of the global population estimates of wetland species since 2012. Regional assessments demonstrate that the number of threatened species has increased, while population counts have declined. The UAE is currently one of only two countries in the region to regularly undertake the International Waterbird Census, which is coordinated by EAD.
Since 2011, around 40 sites across the UAE have been regularly monitored each year in an effort to gather valuable information on waterbirds and wetlands through a network of members including Emirates Nature, Emirates Natural History Group, and the municipalities and environment authorities of Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.