Dubai makes steps towards being eco-friendly

Leading environmentalists, academics, government officials and eco-tourism experts visited Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa yesterday, after a three-day conference identified the award-winning property as the region’s leading sustainable eco-tourism development.

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Organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, the Sustainable Eco-Tourism in Desert Ecosystems conference in Dubai was arranged to discuss sustainable development, conservation of natural resources and tourism growth.

A benchmark in the conference discussions was the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR); the first and largest protected wildlife conservation area in the UAE, formally recognised as a Protected Area by UNEP, and also home to Emirates’ exclusive Al Maha property.

In 2003, the Government of Dubai decided to create a nationally significant conservation area and charged Emirates with its management and protection. Since then Emirates has invested over Dhs10m in support of wildlife conservation programmes, scientific research, and protection of this 225 square kilometre area.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline & Group, and also the Chairman of the Dubai Conservation Board, commented, “We are honoured that Al Maha and the DDCR have been held up internationally as a foremost example of sustainable tourism development at this prestigious conference. We are determined to preserve a balance between conservation and Dubai’s rapid urban expansion. Emirates and Al Maha have contributed enormously to ensure the management of conservation, research and tourism within the DDCR is at the highest international standards.”

Sheikh Ahmed added, “Much of the region’s natural resources, habitats and wildlife are under pressure; however, sustainable developments such as Al Maha offer the biggest opportunities to develop the tourism economy, while also protecting natural and historic heritage into the future.”

Since the opening of Al Maha in 1999, the successful re-introduction of the Arabian Oryx, Arabian Gazelle, Sand Gazelle and large-scale indigenous flora re-seeding programmes are just some of the major projects that have been delicately carried out in the DDCR. It is the only location within the UAE where visitors are able to experience completely free-roaming wildlife within their natural desert and dune surroundings.

The reserve is the most actively researched and carefully managed conservation area in the region. It is registered with the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), audited by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and is a member of the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). The DDCR has joined some of the world’s most treasured conservation areas, including such reserves as Yellowstone National Park in the USA and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Confirmed by scientific research, the environment and habitat within the DDCR has greatly improved from what it was ten years ago. Quite apart from the wildlife which has been reintroduced, many species that had disappeared from the area are now returning on their own accord.

The DDCR is segregated into four utilisation zones. In some areas, only researchers are allowed to enter on foot. In another zone a select number of safari operators – who worked closely with the reserve management to create a foremost example of sustainable desert tourism in the region – can conduct safaris for visitors, providing an experience of the desert and dunes, and its unique fauna and flora, and gaining a better understanding of Dubai’s conservation efforts.

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