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Wadi Wurayah National Park

Date of Submission: 19/09/2021
Criteria: (vii)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture and Youth
State, Province or Region:
Fujairah
Coordinates: N 25.418389 E 56.259902
Ref.: 6554
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Description

Fujairah is the only member of the federation of the United Arab Emirates that lies exclusively on the country’s East Coast, overlooking the Gulf of Oman. It embraces a set of varied landscapes consisting of mountains, alluvial plains and coastal habitats. Among these is a land type that is representative of the Hajar Mountains.

The Wadi Wurayah water catchment area, now protected as part of the Wadi Wurayah National Park, WWNP, lies totally within a priority WWF Global 200 ecoregion, namely Ecoregion 127, (Arabian Highlands and Shrub-lands). This catchment area includes a unique set of perennial freshwater habitats in the form of springs, pools, riffles/streams and waterfalls. Within the WWNP, an area of outstanding natural beauty, there is a rich biodiversity of fauna and flora in an important montane habitat.

Wadi Wurayah National Park (WWNP) is the only terrestrial protected area in the Emirate of Fujairah. Its total area of 225 Km2 covers more than 20% of the total area of the emirate. WWNP was given formal protection under the terms of a special Law/Decree issued by His Highness the Ruler of Fujairah in 2009. In 2010, it was declared a RAMSAR site, thus being recognised as a wetland of international importance, due to its importance for migratory bird species and their associated habitats. In 2018, it was declared as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, the 2nd such MAB site in the United Arab Emirates. As a Biosphere reserve, it includes a mosaic of ecological systems representative of the major biogeographic system in which the UAE is situated and being of significance in terms of conservation of biological diversity. It is also a site that provides opportunities to explore and demonstrate approaches to sustainable development.

WWNP hosts a significant percentage of the species of flora and fauna so far recorded in the United Arab Emirates, as follows: around 30% of the terrestrial plants (208 species out of a total of 688 species), 42% of the terrestrial mammals (20 species out of a total 48 species), 30 % of the terrestrial reptiles (19 species out of a  total  of  53 species) and 26%  of  the  birds  (114  species out  of  a  total  of  435 species), as well as both of the amphibian species recorded in the country.

Flora and fauna that are of particular conservation concern on the national, regional and international levels include:

- Flora: orchid (Epipactis veratrifolia), and wetland species such Saw-sedge (Cladium mariscus) : the only records for UAE are from small populations in WWNP, classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by IUCN

- Mammals: Arabian Tahr (Arabitragus jayakari) endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Critically Endangered” by IUCN; Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Vulnerable” by IUCN, and the Blanford’s Fox (Vulpes cana);

- Fish: Omani Garra (Garra barreimiae):  endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Endangered” by IUCN;

- Birds: Omani Owl (Strix butleri):  the only records for UAE are from WWNP. Classified as “Critically Endangered” for National Red List of UAE and as “Data Deficient” globally by IUCN

- Reptiles: Bar-tailed Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus celerrimus), Rock Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus rupestris), Omani Carpet Viper (Echis omanensis), and Blue-tailed Lizard (Omanosaura cyanura): endemic to the UAE and Northern Oman;

- Amphibians: Arabian Toad (Duttaphrynus arabicus): endemic to the UAE and Northern Oman, Dhofar Toad (Duttaphrynus dhufarensis): endemic to the Arabian Peninsula;

- Invertebrates: 74 terrestrial invertebrate families identified, including Odonata (dragonflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (bugs), Odonata (dragonflies), Trichoptera (caddisflies), Platyhelminthes (flatworms), Nematodes (roundworms), Annelids (segmented worms), and Gastropoda (molluscs).

WWNP is also listed as a Ramsar site, under the terms of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat.  It meets 7 of the 9 Ramsar Convention Criteria:

Criterion 1: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it contains a representative, rare, or unique example of a natural or near-natural wetland type found within the appropriate biogeographic region.

Criterion 2: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities.

Criterion 3: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region.

Criterion 4: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions.

Criterion 7: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values and thereby contributes to global biological diversity.

Criterion 8: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend.

Criterion 9: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

 The WWNP provides a mosaic of ecological systems representative of the region. It captures an important part of the unique Hajar mountain range with its key mountain habitat types.

The core zone of WWNP is primarily an active water catchment basin and hydrogeological system with flowing freshwater sources associated with a rechargeable aquifer. Such a system is of particular rarity in a very arid region. The mountain ranges included within the WWNP create a network of undulating wadi systems naturally distributed between two main water sub-catchments. These riparian systems form a critical source of water for native fauna and flora as well as for traditional human use. In the past, the protected area that now forms the WWNP was extensively used by human inhabitants due to the availability of permanent freshwater resources. Around 70 former sites of human settlement, of varying sizes, have been identified within the borders of the WWNP.

The varied landscape transforms from dry to wet within the space of a few kilometres, as shown by the different types of terrain within the area of the Park, ranging from montane habitats to the wadi (watercourse) systems flowing mainly from the west which open to large outwash plains in the coastal zone to the east.

The degree of evidence for human settlement or engagement within the WWNP can be related to the natural West-East gradient of the Park’s landscape, from the rugged and less accessible terrain and inner parts of the protected areas, lying largely to the west, to the lower, more accessible and flatter plains to the east. As a result, the higher mountains of the WWNP and their associated wadi systems are subject to a lower level of human presence and influence, allowing floral and faunal biodiversity to flourish. In contrast, the lower hills and eastern plains host higher level of human use both today and in the past. This use, however, is now controlled by limits placed on resource utilisation, based on levels of change to natural habitats and landscapes that can be permitted to allow for the continued viability of key biodiversity components. This combination underpins the rationale for the nomination of the Wadi Wurayah National Park as a World Heritage Site.

Criterion (vii): The WWNP embraces more than 20% of the total area of the Emirate of Fujairah. It comprises major components of two of the largest natural watershed systems present in the emirate, the Wadi Al Wurayah catchment basin (South) with its permanent water resources and the Wadi Zikt sub-catchment basin (North) with its seasonal water regime system. The park was designed to include the entirety of the two catchments with almost all their associated natural ecosystems and habitats with their representative flora and fauna species.

The area of the WWNP no longer includes any permanent human settlements. Families who formerly lived in the area now encompassed by the Park were given houses elsewhere by the Government of Fujairah in the 1970s, as part of a programme of infrastructure development. In most cases, these new houses were in the township of Bidiyah, which lies between the eastern boundary of the Park and the coast. Several other small towns and villages lie relatively close to the Park’s boundaries, which, together with Bidiyah, have a population of around 9,000.

Most of the local residents have very strong cultural ties with the Park, a relationship deeply anchored in the history of human presence in the area. Many residents still visit areas within the Park that were traditionally used by their ancestors, for example as dwelling places, for farming or for grazing of their livestock.

Thus, in recent decades, the Park has been transformed from being a place where people lived and used the natural resources available to a location that is relevant to their cultural heritage, where traditions and culture are remembered and embraced.

The WWNP provides an opportunity for the people of the Emirate of Fujairah, in particular for those from adjacent areas, to relate to their past and reinforce their relationship to nature. The management of the park is being undertaken in such a way as to invite, rather than to deter, local communities, their guests and visitors, from both inside and outside the United Arab Emirates, to enjoy the natural and ancestral cultural heritage. The intention is that the area of the Park will continue to be used, but within the necessary constraints related to sustainability and long term protection.   

The three administrative areas of WWNP have been delineated with the primary intention of protecting the water resources and wildlife, as contained within the Core Zone, with an area of 118 sq. km. The Buffer Zone, of  92 sq. km., serves as a transitional area, within which farms with domestic livestock (goats) were formerly located. These have now been removed, although a small population of feral goats moves between all three zones. The Sustainable Tourism Zone, of 9 sq. km. is the zone in which all infrastructure for visitors is, or will be, located.

Criterion (x):  WWNP is one of the few examples of pristine freshwater catchments in the Hajar Mountains and the only such catchment in the Emirate of Fujairah or, more widely, in the United Arab Emirates as a whole.  The area includes the majority of the intact local natural habitats, within which live a number of  species which are important for maintaining the biodiversity of the region. The Park falls within the WWF Global 200 eco-region 127, the Arabian Highlands and Shrublands. It has a primarily desert montane habitat type which is highly representative of the Hajar mountain range as a whole. It is, therefore, representative of the broader region as well.

As part of the Hajar mountain range, the mountains within the Park have a well-developed system of wadis (valleys) with deep canyons. Within these are a locally-unique set of perennial freshwater habitats, in the form of springs, pools, riffles / streams and a waterfall, containing a richly-diverse population of  fauna and flora.

Because of the uniqueness of the Wadi Wurayah freshwater habitats in the highly-arid environment of the Emirates, they attract a wide range of fauna, including numerous species of migratory birds.

In the past, the area of the Park contained several flagship species of fauna, including Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr ), now possibly extinct in the wild  in the United Arab Emirates, and Arabian Tahr (Arabitragus jayakari), which was last recorded in 2013 through camera traps and is highly endangered elsewhere in the UAE. Consideration is being given to the possible reintroduction of both species in the WWNP, with a view to re-establishing viable populations. A captive breeding programme for Arabian Tahr, with a view to future reintroduction, is already under way, managed by the Office of His Highness the Crown Prince of Fujairah.

Key species occurring in the park include:

  • The only record of the Bloody Darter dragonfly (Crocothemis sanguinolenta) for UAE.
  • Flora: orchid (Epipactis veratrifolia) and wetland species such Saw-sedge (Cladium mariscus) only records for UAE are from small populations in WWNP and classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by IUCN
  • Fish: Garra barreimiae endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Endangered” by IUCN;
  • -Birds: Omani Owl (Strix butleri) only records for UAE from WWNP and classified as “Critically Endangered” for National Red List of UAE and as “Data Deficient” globally by IUCN
  • Reptiles: Bar-tailed Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus celerrimus), Rock Semaphore Gecko (Pristurus rupestris), Omani Carpet Viper (Echis omanensis), Blue-tailed Lizard (Omanosaura cyanura): endemic to the UAE and Northern Oman;
  • Amphibians: Arabian Toad (Bufo arabicus): endemic to the UAE and Northern Oman, Dhofar Toad (Bufo dhufarensis): endemic to the Arabian Peninsula;
  • Mammals: Arabian Tahr (Arabitragus jayakari), endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Critically Endangered” by IUCN; Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi) endemic to the Arabian Peninsula and classified as “Vulnerable” by IUCN, and the Blanford’s Fox (Vulpes cana).
  • Invertebrates: 74 terrestrial invertebrate families identified including Odonata (dragonflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (bugs), Odonata (dragonflies), Trichoptera (caddisflies), Platyhelminthes (flatworms), Nematodes (roundworms), Annelids (segmented worms), and Gastropoda (molluscs).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The main objective of the establishment of Wadi Wurayah National Park is the establishment of a sustainable protected area which combines local heritage and modern life while maintaining the biodiversity, unique natural habitats and provides an economic role model in the region.

WWNP enjoys the highest level of protection under the local law No 2 of 2009 issued by H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Ruler of the Emirate of Fujairah, designating Wadi Wurayah as a protected area. H.H. Sheikh Hamad has also designated the Fujairah Environment Authority as the main Governmental authority responsible for implementing all plans relating to the Park, including all aspects relating to planning and management.

Further protection of the Park derives from its designation as a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR Convention and as a Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO MAB programme.

Fujairah Environment Authority, established in early 2021, intends to establish a park coordination body as a mechanism to ensure full participation by major stakeholders in decisions related to park planning, management and future development.

Comparison with other similar properties

Wadi Wurayah lies within a priority WWF Global 200 Ecoregion (Ecoregion 127, Arabian Highlands and Shrublands) and shelters a rich diversity of rare and endangered mountainous and freshwater habitats and species and is classified as one of the most distinctive natural habitats on Earth. The Wadi Wurayah is one of the few freshwater catchment basins that have remained intact in the United Arab Emirates in the Emirate of Fujairah.

Due to its unique characterization and geographical placement, there are no sites in the World Heritage Network that share similar habitat. The closest comparison to the site with similar properties and criteria applicability is the Simien National Park. Here, massive erosion over the years on the Ethiopian plateau has created one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 m. The park is home to some extremely rare animals such as the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world.

Another site with similar properties is on the tentative list namely Smahan's Mountain Nature Reserve which is located in the south of Oman (Ref.: 5834). The reserve was established to protect wildlife in its natural habitats and to promote sustainable use of the natural resources such as wildlife-related tourism. Smahan's Mountain Nature Reserve (JSNR) meets criteria VII and X as it encompasses different lansdscapes, habitats and relatively rich biodiversity.

The deep canyons with water pools and various species of plants provide ideal habitat for the Critically Endangered animal called Arabian Leopard. The reserve is characterized botanically by a high degree of endemism.  Nubian Ibex, Arabian Gazelle, Stripped Hyenas, Caracal, Wild Cats, Foxes and Wolves are also present in the area. The reserve is considered as a major habitat for the Nubian Ibex.

Wadi Wurayah has some similarities to these sites which have criteria VII and X in their listing in the WHS programme. WWNP is home to many rare and endangered species such as Arabian Tahr, Blanford Fox, and Omani Owl etc. WWNP is a declared protected area with complete protection under the local environment laws. It is managed by the Fujairah Environment Authority, chaired by H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi , Crown Prince of the Emirate of Fujairah. Under his guidance, WWNP has become an important site for conservation of nature and a platform for raising awareness and community participation in environment.