After the approval of its Board of Directors of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) to establish the Abu Dhabi Plant Genetic Resources Centre, preparations has begun to set up the centre which aims to document the genetic resources of local bio-diverse plant species, and studying and conserving them by utilising an integrated approach that includes internal and external conservational methods for these species to sustain biodiversity.
The project is the first of its kind in the region aiming to utilise and restore the botanical heritage of the United Arab Emirates and help re-acquaint people with the beauty of plants that are natural to arid climates and their habitats.
EAD is implementing the project in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), the Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), the Environment and Protected Areas Authority – Sharjah (EPPA), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), and the Department of Municipal Affairs.
HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, EAD Secretary General, emphasised the importance of this national project focusing on preserving the plant species across the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula, in positioning the UAE as a global leader in environmental conservation and sustainable development. “It also enhances rehabilitation programmes and supports reintroduction programmes of endangered species” she noted.
HE Al Mubarak highlighted that the UAE’s flora richness and diversity is considered as one of the key elements of national heritage and identity. However, the environment’s flora resources have become vulnerable with the possibility of degradation and loss due to the increasing population, urban development and desertification. These issues increase the challenges in reducing plant diversity, and protecting and conserving them for future generations.
Al Mubarak also stressed on the importance of the project that is implemented within the UAE University’s experimental farm in Al Ain, in strengthening the partnership between the EAD and the university, and ensuring the participation of students in conducting scientific research and receiving university degrees. The project will also help in building Emirati talent specialised in environmental conservation and resources management, as well as implementing scientific research activities using the latest technologies, and reflects the agency and the university’s commitment to working together in utilising the community’s skills to contribute to the country’s development.
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director – Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector said: “Recent studies conducted by the Ministry of Environment and Water in collaboration with EAD, estimated the number of plant species scattered across the United Arab Emirates at 755 plant species belonging to 81 different families, with 401 species belonging to 255 different genus of 62 plant families found in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.”
“Some of these plant species are considered as natural resources for some growing crops in different parts of the world, which increases their importance on a global scale as they constitute an essential plant genetic resource. We need to conserve these native plant species and use them sustainably through the establishment of the “Gene Bank” for plants genetic resources. In the long run, the project will also include direct and indirect economic returns,” Al Dhaheri added.
In addition to the importance of the project in conserving and sustaining the local plants’ genetic resources, the centre represents an indicator to the country’s commitment towards international conventions and protocols signed (Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the Nagoya Protocol), and capacity building of local talent specialised in technical, scientific and administrative aspects for the Plant Genetic Resources banks, and providing them with the opportunity to conduct research or obtain university degrees in various plant genetic resources studies.
EAD is working on implementing the project in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens “Kew” in London, which is providing technical and scientific support and consultations for the project’s design preparation stages, reviewing and evaluating the seed collections as well as reviewing and evaluating the herbarium of wild plants in EAD. “Kew” will also provide EAD with guidance on setting up databases for the project, and the development of the centre’s standard operating procedures in collecting and preserving seeds and the establishment and maintenance of a herbarium, in addition to submitting a proposal for and centre’s organisational structure and identifying the different jobs, tasks and expertise required.
It is worth noting that in 2013, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued decree number (5) for structuring the Executive and Technical Committee for the Plant Genetic Resources Centre project, chaired by EAD, with board members from various entities including the United Arab Emirates University, Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, Environment and Protected Areas Authority- Sharjah, International Center for Biosaline Agriculture and the Western Region Municipality.