The UAE capital has become home to more than 800 flamingo chicks and nine new species since the start of 2020. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi reflected on achievements in wildlife and conservation in its half year report. Discoveries include seven new invertebrates and two plants – and follow a pledge to phase-out single use plastics in 2021. In early March, the agency joined Zayed University and launched its inaugural Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival, screening 15 short films and six movies on environmental issues from e-waste to leftovers.

The onset of the pandemic later that month and the subsequent lockdown saw wildlife flourish due to a temporary drop in pollution and human disturbance. The agency recorded the birth of 22 per cent more flamingos chicks this year, more sea turtle nesting activity and the visit of Arabian tahrs to areas long avoided.

This year, the agency recorded 52 hawksbill sea turtle nesting sites along the Abu Dhabi coast. The number of dugong deaths was halved this winter, an achievement attributed to last season’s fishing net ban. Prior to the regulation, most deaths were caused by drowning after the marine mammals got tangled in nets.

It has also been a year of new discoveries. So far this year, the agency recorded seven species of invertebrates new to science and two plant species new to Abu Dhabi. Additionally, the agency planted 1 million seeds of native plants, and has grown 55 dwarf palms, 30 carullama and 30 Arabian Moringa at its Al Ain nursery.

Environmental protection made another gain in early March when the agency announced Abu Dhabi would go free of single-use plastic bags by 2021. Abu Dhabi is the first emirate to announce a planned ban on plastic bags. Straws, plastic cutlery, stir sticks, cups and lids will also be targeted by the new policy. In July, the agency was granted the power to increase fines, close or temporarily suspend the activities of any organisation breaching Abu Dhabi’s environmental laws. Previously, it held a more advisory role.

The same month, a new grazing law was passed to protect Abu Dhabi’s fragile desert habitats from the insatiable appetites of camels and goats, which have multiplied over the decades.   Under Law No 11 of 2020, domestic animals cannot graze within two kilometres of nature reserves or critical habitats. (The National)    

PHOTO: Al Wathba Wetland was declared a reserve in 1998 by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father. It was established as a protected area following the first successful breeding of flamingos. CREDIT: Victor Besa / The National.