The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) has completed phase one of Al Wathba Wetland eco-reserve project and is welcoming visitors to experience this important reserve in Abu Dhabi. The concept of eco-reserves was introduced to the public during the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX) 2014.
Throughout the past few months, EAD's terrestrial biodiversity team have made significant developments to ensure the interactive and friendly atmosphere of the reserve, while preserving its natural heritage. Upon arrival at the reserve, visitors have the opportunity to check in at the newly built Visitor Experience Centre, watch a short movie about the significance of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and then embark on one of the self-guided trails that have been mapped out by EAD's specialist team.
The trails, with interpretive signage, provides visitors with the opportunity to walk through the reserve's natural terrains and familiarise themselves with the various bird species that reside in Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. The track ends at the bird hide facility which offers visitors a unique experience to observe Al Wathba's flamingos up close and personal. Additional facilities such as restrooms and parking spaces have also been integrated within the eco-reserve to facilitate to the visitors' needs.
Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD commented: "Abu Dhabi presents a rich and diverse terrain which is home to various species across air, land and sea. With the opening of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to the public, the residents of Abu Dhabi have been given the opportunity to reconnect with the natural heritage that exists within the Emirate. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, in specific, is considered to be an important area for biodiversity conservation for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi."
"By opening the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to the public, we are providing our community specially the school and university students with greater access to these protected areas, to enhance their environmental awareness and to connect with nature that will help them to conduct scientific studies and research, while witnessing how EAD is protecting its rich biodiversity" Dr Shaikha added.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was officially declared as a protected area in 1998 by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as it proved to be the ideal habitat for migratory birds and a significant breeding site for the Greater flamingos. Since 2011, flamingos have regularly bred in Al Wathba, making it the only site in the UAE and in the Arabian Gulf where this species regularly breeds. In 2013, the reserve achieved its international recognition when it joined more than 2,000 worldwide wetlands as a Ramsar site, making it Abu Dhabi's first Ramsar site. With over 200 migratory birds, 11 mammals, 10 reptiles and over 35 plant species, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve offers visitors a complete experience and a true understanding if the importance of conservation in Abu Dhabi.
Visitors could be lucky to see the newly discovered metallic-colored Cuckoo Wasp (Hedychridium anithaae) which was recently discovered at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve by our researchers, and was added to the list of hundreds of invertebrates recorded at the reserve. Other species that are found at Al Wathba include Greater spotted eagle, Salvadora, Red fox, Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard "Dhub", Desert monitor lizard, Cape desert hare, Purple-blushed darter, Cheesman's gerbil and Ethiopian hedgehog.
Since last November, EAD has welcomed number of visitors at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, defining the group to a limited number, so as to ensure the safety and well-being of the rich and diverse habitat at the reserve. In order to build strong visitor experiences, EAD encourages visitors to fill out surveys at the Visitors Experience Centre to provide feedback about their experience. So far visitors expressed their satisfaction with the experience of visiting the reserve which gave them and their families a unique opportunity to connect directly with nature.
Additional developments are set in place to further enhance the eco-reserve experience for visitors at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. Key developments will include an additional bird hide near the freshwater pools to offer visitors another opportunity for bird watching, the elongation of the current self-guided walking trails to cover different habitats on the reserve, the introduction of an educational botanic garden to include key native plants of Abu Dhabi and the adaptation of the site for handicaps.
Public interested in exploring the eco-reserves are encouraged to pre-register for the visits through EAD website www.ead.ae as visits are strictly by appointment only, to control visitors' number which will help EAD to manage the reserve and ensure the protection and preservation of its habitats, fauna and flora. After filling in the registration form and determining the number of visitors, EAD's eco-reserve team will contact the registered one to let them know if they can accommodate their request and provide them with a booking number.