May. 5, 2020


Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri

UAE, Abu Dhabi

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri

, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD)

Despite the harsh and arid climate, there are over 400 plant species and 3,000 fauna in the UAE.

BIO

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri is the Secretary General of EAD, the largest environmental regulator in the Middle East and responsible for protecting and preserving natural resources and promoting sustainable development in the Emirate. She holds a PhD in wildlife conservation and protection from the University of Aberdeen, the first Emirati woman to earn such an accolade. She also holds a master's in environmental science from UAE University in Al Ain and in biological conservation from the University of Kent. She earned her bachelor's in environmental species from UAE University. She began her career at EAD as a research assistant in the agency's Terrestrial Environment Research in 2000 and was later appointed executive director of the terrestrial and marine biodiversity department in 2012.


What are the mandate and core activities of EAD?
Our environmental work in Abu Dhabi began over 25 years ago. Today, our mandate is to regulate sectors and enforce environmental laws aimed at protecting the UAE's natural heritage. We develop and implement environmental protection and conservation programs, applying these at the individual level as well as more broadly in public and private sectors, such as agriculture and energy. Our impact extends globally, and we have sustained several international partnerships that are helping us achieve our goals. Moreover, we have monitoring programs collecting data in areas like carbon emissions, the status of endangered species, as well as air and water quality. By making credible research accessible to decision-makers, we have facilitated the creation of robust laws and policies.

What are the distinguishing features of Abu Dhabi's environment compared to other parts of the UAE?
Abu Dhabi's environment is so unique and diverse. Before joining the agency many years ago, I thought our environment was mostly a one-dimensional desert environment with little natural life. I was surprised, however, to discover the diversity and richness of our native biodiversity despite our harsh and arid climate. We have more than 400 plant species and over 3,000 fauna species. Abu Dhabi's marine waters are home to some 3,000 dugong, the second-largest dugong population in the world after Australia, and the largest indopacific humpback dolphin population in the world. From this understanding, we can devise regulatory laws to protect Abu Dhabi's natural heritage and environment. We have a rigorous permitting process in place for industrial development activities, ensuring environmental impact assessments are carried out and mitigation plans set if deemed necessary. We have a substantial network of 19 protected areas that we are proud to call the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network, while UNESCO, Ramsar, and IUCN Greenlist recognise many of these sites internationally. We are immensely proud of our world-leading reintroduction programs for endangered species and have managed to improve the status of several species, including the Arabian Oryx. Previously considered threatened, thanks to the efforts of the UAE, the Arabian Oryx is now considerably less vulnerable.

What are the areas of greatest sensitivity and threat across Abu Dhabi's environment?
The coastal areas in Abu Dhabi are the most sensitive since they are home to a variety of habitats such as sabkhas, salt marshes, sand beaches, mangroves, and more, but are also the focus of much development work. Therefore, we must be careful in regard to coastal developments and industrial activity around the coastline. The coastline, recognized as part of our heritage in the UAE, was historically the only gateway to our nation and an important route for trade. Moreover, mangroves, a critical coastal habitat, are incredibly important for carbon sequestration as demonstrated by a study conducted by EAD in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Global Data Initiative (AGEDI) on Blue Carbon. We found that these mangroves absorb a large amount of carbon dioxide; thus, playing an important role in climate change reduction. They also play a role as fish nurseries and as natural barriers to storms. Since Abu Dhabi Emirate is home to 70% of the UAE's mangroves, it is essential to protect them, especially since most of the mangroves are about 25 years old, which is beyond the minimum age of 15 when mangroves start to realise their greatest carbon storage potential.

What are some of the most vulnerable areas today?
One of the most vulnerable habitats in Abu Dhabi worth mentioning is Jabal Hafit, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi's only mountain. It is home to many endangered and endemic species that do not exist elsewhere in the emirate. Recently, we spotted the Arabian caracal there, which has not been seen for over 35 years, and a rare dwarf palm.

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