It began with the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR). Working alongside the Dubai Government, Emirates established this reserve to protect critical desert habitat and a variety of endangered species – it is still the largest protected area in the UAE today. The DDCR was also the first conservation area officially protected in the UAE, with a constitution and environmental law dedicated to ensuring its status as a nature reserve.
The DDCR takes up a massive 225km2, or 5% of Dubai’s total land mass, and also includes a leading conservation-based luxury resort. As well as protecting several endangered large mammal species, such as the Arabian and Scimitar-horned Oryx, the DDCR is a major contributor to both local scientific research and conservation efforts.
100% of all visitor revenue from DCCR is spent on conversation and wildlife care, with Emirates also sponsoring a dedicated conservation team of eight ecologists and wildlife specialists.
After five years of planning, Emirates opened the 1,250 hectare Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa in October 2009 – one of Australia’s first luxury conservation resorts. Nestled in the Wolgan Valley beneath spectacular sandstone escarpments, this environmentally sensitive resort is in keeping with the unique wilderness of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area in New South Wales – about 2.5 hours drive from Sydney. Bordering the Wollemi and Gardens of Stone National Parks, guests enjoy a true wilderness experience during their stay – while still enjoying the finest luxury hospitality.
The resort buildings themselves take up less than 2% of the conservation reserve, and have been designed with green buildings principles in mind – they boast the latest designs to minimise energy and water consumption, such as heat pumps, solar panels and passive ventilation systems. To show this commitment, Emirates was proud to announce that, on opening, the Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa became the first carboNZero©™ certified hotel in the world, and the first carbon neutral resort in the world to be certified through an internationally accredited greenhouse gas programme.
The property is located a short distance from a secret canyon in the Wollemi National Park, in which the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) was discovered by an intrepid naturalist in 1994. The Wollemi Pine belongs to a 200 million year old plant family, the Araucariaceae, and its discovery in modern times has become one of the most exciting botanical finds of the century. The significance of its discovery has been compared to the equivalent of finding a live dinosaur in the present time. A number of Wollemi Pine specimens have been planted in an appropriate habitat on site, and its distinctive leaves are the basis for the resort’s emblem.
Emirates invested over 125 million USD into this project to ensure the conservation of the unique biodiversity of this region. The property was previously used for cattle grazing and suffered numerous environmental stresses from streambank erosion and vegetation clearance to infestation with feral animals and weeds. Cattle have now been removed from the site and an extensive revegetation programme has been undertaken to stabilise eroding waterways and re-establish vegetation and wildlife corridors.
The whole property is now being used as a private reserve for the conservation of the region’s endangered species and the reintroduction of native flora and fauna. Emirates has planted over 125,000 native trees and shrubs across the site and is actively removing feral animals and introduced plant species.
Many small native animal species in the greater Blue Mountains area have been driven to extinction, falling victim to introduced predators such as feral cats, foxes and wild dogs. Emirates has been conducting research into predator control and habitat protection of these species in conjunction with local conservation groups and academic institutions – trialling the use of ‘feral-proof’ fencing and targeted pest eradication programmes.
Recent sightings of endangered species at Wolgan Valley have included Red-headed Flying Foxes feeding on flowering eucalyptus trees and large numbers of Bronze-winged and Wonga Pigeons. There have also been sightings of Regent Honeyeaters and Spotted-tailed Quolls in the tree line along Carne Creek at night. Quolls (pictured) are medium sized carnivorous marsupials that are at risk from foxes and feral cats and uncontrolled baiting and trapping. This year has seen the Red-rumped Parrot increase in numbers along with the Eastern Rosella and other parrots. With more medium sized parrots available, the Peregrine Falcon will have more food for its young.