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09 December 2023

MOCCAE warns against behaviours that threaten UAE biodiversity

By Wam

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, MOCCAE, has warned against some behaviours that raise environmental concerns and threaten native biodiversity. These behaviours have led to the introduction of invasive species to local ecosystems, posing a threat to indigenous flora and fauna.

Invasive species that are introduced by humans outside of their natural distribution areas can have adverse impact on biodiversity, ecosystems, human health and the economy.

A survey that was carried out as part of the National Programme for the Sustainability of Wildlife revealed the existence of 24 invasive plants, animals, and other organisms in the UAE.

MOCCAE is attributing the alarming number to the irresponsible behaviours of some individuals or businesses who lose the alien species in their possession, by either an accidental escape of the species or deliberate release of unwanted pets. Importing and exporting contaminants across borders is another pathway for invasive species into the country in addition to sneaking them in by irresponsible individuals.

While some alien species have made their way to the UAE intentionally for the purposes of aquaculture, biological control, food security and agriculture, these species pose no danger as they are kept under the control and supervision of MOCCAE - as a legislative body - and local government entities as executive bodies.

Hiba Al Shehhi, Acting Director of Biodiversity Department at MOCCAE, revealed that MOCCAE teams are collaborating with experts in the field and competent local government entities to devise an integrated federal plan to combat invasive species. The plan will categorise species based on their risk level and set actions in motion to eradicate and control them, as well as recover and restore local ecosystems.

She added, "The world’s biodiversity is under a multitude of pressures and is experiencing radical changes as a result of population growth, urbanisation, environmental pollution, climate change and the spread of invasive species. Although in comparison to climate change and land-use change, the introduction of invasive species may not be as threatening to biodiversity, but it still is a factor that we cannot afford to ignore, particularly as more invasive species are making their way to the local environment due to growing inland and sea movement of people and goods."

Elaborating on the adverse impacts of invasive species, Al Shehhi said, "They compete with native species over resources - soil, water and food - as well as breeding sites, which leads to the extinction or population reduction of the native species. They can cause a great economic and environmental harm as alien pests and pathogens can damage the production of agriculture and fisheries. In addition, these invaders can cause immense harm to human health as they carry and spread diseases, such as malaria and bird flu. And, they can damage the aesthetic appeal of the city, as they leave their droppings and set their nests everywhere."

UNEP’s fifth Global Environment Outlook Report shows that the numbers of invasive alien species continue to increase. Data from Europe show the number has increased by 76 percent since 1970, a pattern that is likely to be similar on other continents. "According to another study, invasive alien species were a factor in more than half of vertebrate extinctions, and the sole cause of 20 percent. Invasive alien species have large economic costs, estimated by one study to total US$1.4 trillion annually," Al Shehhi explained.

The UAE has paid utmost attention to preserving the environment and protecting its natural resources and biodiversity since it was established by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. To ensure the threat of invasive species is addressed properly, the UAE leadership has approved and launched the National Programme for the Sustainability of Wildlife.

Al Shehhi noted that the programme cooperated with experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature to put forth UAE-specific checklists of invasive species, as part of the Union’s Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species, GRIIS. GRIIS helped identify and prioritise invasive alien species in the UAE, cast light on the importance of improved management of the UAE’s ecosystems from intrusion by foreign plant, animal and microbial life, and provided scientists with the data needed to develop systems and products to mitigate such intrusions.