national park

Three days in the mountains with WWF

There’s something remarkable about working with field biologists. Their passion and excitement are contagious. Their appreciation for the smallest gritty crawlers makes me wonder what beautiful fauna I fail to notice everyday.

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Recently, I found myself at a very special place… the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been appointed to create the first National Park in the region, named Wadi Wurayah National Park, on the east coast of the UAE.

129 square kilometres of rugged mountain land has been closed to the public since 2009. The area is most valued for its wetlands and the opportunities it presents for documenting and conserving natural resources. For now… and for generations to come.

For three days, I pretty much got carte blanche to roam around the park… to create imagery for a book project I’m involved in. With my innate love for the mountains anyway, its pure rock, fresh mountain air, breathtaking views and sheer expanse, to have access to such exclusive areas was a real privilege. And they call this work?!

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With few roads let alone hiking trails in place, exploring entailed roaming with a pack on my back to find the best vantage points. To wonder and to find. I spent some time with Alex on a ‘Bear Hunt’… of course, without either the hunting or the bear element! Actually, the wildlife is pretty scant. The biggest animal we spotted was 6cm big, a toad. Obviously animals don’t turn up to order but rather show up on their own accord… and generally when you’re least prepared! Anyway, with the help of of the local team I enjoyed an eye opening experience and banked a few great shots.

One shot I was keen to get was the release of a toad, shot half above and half below the water. Knowing the wetlands plays a big role in the story, I had to include a strong water shot so I took my Aquatech waterproof camera housing. I found a pool with the right water depth and timed it so we w’d be there during the three hours of the day when the pool catches a bit of sunlight and the backdrop would look dramatic. Part of the WWF learning program is counting toads so it’s a common practice which happens in real time. I did a quick dry run to check the camera settings and framing, followed by the a painfully long 45 minutes trying to find one (Murphy’s Law), but eventually we struck lucky and caught a sequence of 24 frames. The below is one of my favourites…

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As a photographer and storyteller, Wadi Wurayah National Park has endless beauty and content. As a scientist and biologist, it must be heaven to map the park and for WWF, it’s a proud showcase of the valuable work they do. I’m so grateful to the Fujairah Government for taking the lead in preserving their land and building a platform around sustainable access.

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Once the park is officially opened, I’ll be taking my two boys there, to hike the trails, spot the dragon flies and observe the Arabian Tahr… and most importantly, to teach them the value of looking after our resources. It’s a stunning place.

Wk.