Rehab for natural habitats in Jebel Hafit

By Eudore R. Chand

ABU DHABI 21 July 2020: The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, has begun a project to rehabilitate mountainous natural habitats in the Jebel Hafit National Park by propagating threatened local plant species like Dwarf Palms, Caralluma and Arabian Moringa in its native plant nursery.

Within a valley in the Jebel Hafit National Park, 55 Dwarf Palms, 30 Carulluma and 30 Arabian Moringa plants have been planted in a wadi (valley). They will be continuously monitored until the end of the year, to ensure their survival. Once they are fully established, they will be left to grow naturally, although their rates of growth will be observed.

Dwarf palms are considered the rarest and most threatened plant in Abu Dhabi, with only one specimen known in the wild, growing in a high altitude wadi on Jebel Hafit. Elsewhere in the UAE, the species are known from sites in Wadi Al Helo and Hatta. Several previous attempts have been made to propagate Dwarf Palms. Their seeds are generally eaten by birds and other animals before they mature, leaving nothing for natural generation. The fact that the species grows in mountainous areas that are extremely difficult to reach makes it difficult to collect seeds for propagation, said Wam.

Following success in collecting seeds, however, around 100 seedling Dwarf Palms are currently being grown at EAD’s Baynouna nursery, in the Al Dhafra Region. The nursery, which specialises in the propagation and conservation of native flora, currently contains around 68 different plant species including many rare and endangered species. The nursery can produce around 380,000 seedlings a year.

Ahmed Al Hashemi, Acting Executive Director of EAD’s Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said, “The Jebel Hafit National Park is the only protected area within the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network, managed by EAD, that covers a mountainous environment in Abu Dhabi.” It was designated an Emiri Decree in December 2017.”

Al Hashemi added, “Despite its small area, it is rich in biodiversity and 170 plant species have been recorded which constitutes approximately 40 percent of the total plant species in (the Emirate of) Abu Dhabi. Wadi Tarabat alone, which is considered the largest and longest valley in Jebel Hafit includes 95 species of plants such as Christ’s thorn (Ziziphus spina-christi). Acridocarpus orientalis, locally known as Qafas, also grows in Jebel Hafit’s Wadi Tarabat and is of outstanding conservation value as it is the only known population of the species in the UAE, apart from a few other locations on Jebel Hafit.”

“Because it is the only mountain environment in Abu Dhabi, the reserve has previously faced several developmental pressures, which makes rehabilitation operations an urgent necessity. The reserve hosts a large group of rare species which cannot survive in the surrounding desert, so they must be protected to sustain their cultural and environmental value for future generations,” Al Hashemi added.

“The plantation of the Dwarf Plant, Caralluma and Arabian Moringa is part of a larger process to rehabilitate low-altitude areas of the reserve,” he said. “Other locations within the reserve will also be chosen to support different forms of biodiversity.”

All conservation and propagation activities are carried out using in-house EAD expertise with a focus on capacity building of national staff.