Landmark project to feature natural reserves, hotels and commercial facilities
In cooperation with the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA)
The announcement was made by H.E. Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq, during a press conference, which was held yesterday (Tuesday) on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2012. The press conference was held in the presence of Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Director General of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) in Sharjah, Abdullah Saif Al Yamahi, Chairman of the Kalba Municipal Council, Tim Rundle, Director of the International Conservation Services, a number of officials and individuals concerned with tourism, as well as media representatives. The project, the largest of its kind in the development eco-tourism facilities in the UAE and the region, will be set up in Khor Kalba, 15 km south of Fujairah city on the UAE-Oman borders. The Kalba Eco-Tourism Project, which will be developed in collaboration with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority(EPAA), and the International Conservation Services, will feature natural reserves and diverse tourist and commercial facilities. In his speech during the conference, Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Shurooq CEO, said, "The tourism industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The concept of tourism is no longer centred on taking an airplane to a new country to be familiarized with its landmarks, traditions and culture. Tourism has become one of the most important industries on which many countries around the world depend to achieve development." Al Sarkal stressed that the UAE has always sought to keep pace with the latest developments in this sector, and has always been in the forefront of the tourism industry with leading initiatives and new innovations that has allowed it to attract tourists from all over the world. "Its strategic location overlooking the Arabian Gulf in the West and the Gulf of Oman, and its diverse natural and unique characteristics, including the beautiful mountains, plains and shores of its eastern region, among many other natural tourist elements, has made Sharjah one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the region," Al Sarkal said, adding that all these characteristics have qualified Sharjah to be home to exceptional tourism and investment projects. Unveiling the project's details, Al Sarkal said, "The multiphase project will be implemented in three phases, the first of which will see the development of natural reserves in Kalba (Hafiya and Al Qurm nature reserves), and the establishment of a centre within the reserve for visitors, as well as the restoration of archaeological sites within the project." He noted that work on phase 1 is already underway. The second phase of the project will involve the development of Kalba Creek and the construction of a commercial complex featuring shops and restaurants overlooking the creek. It will include the development of recreational spaces that will enable holidaymakers to enjoy the area's natural biodiversity without causing harm of negatively affecting its wildlife. Phase 2 of the project will also comprise the development of a number of islands in the creek, as well as rehabilitation to revive their natural marine and bird life. Regarding the third phase, Al Sarkal stated, "Phase 3 has been designated for the tourism part of the project, which will see the setting up of a number of hotels and fantastically designed chalets overlooking the Gulf of Oman." He added that more than 300 rooms spanning hotels and chalets will be built in line with eco-friendly standards. Al Sarkal remarked that the project would be completed within six years, with the phases of the project being delivered successively. He pointed out that eco-tourism lovers and beach goers would especially respond to the Kalba project, because it will feature many facilities and diverse amenities and activities, that will make it an incomparable tourist destination in the world. The project will include a dedicated art building, a centre for diving and marine hobbies, as well as offering trips to explore Khor Kalba and mangroves. Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Director General of the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), said " The development of natural reserves are given a top priority by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and by the emirate of Sharjah in line with its strategy to preserve the environmental, social, and tourist characteristics and properties of Sharjah. And the Kalba Eco-Tourism Project will further expand the natural heritage portfolio found within the umbrella of Sharjah and the UAE's natural reserves." Al Suwaidi said one of the most important characteristics of the project, making it the premier environmental tourist project in the region, is that the project includes the largest mangrove forests on the eastern coast. The project is also distinguished by the region's rich biodiversity as it is home to rare marine species and different breeds of marine life including rare birds, fish and green turtles. The project site is also home to migratory bird species, such as the King Fisher - Al Rafraf and the migratory Blue cheek Bee-eater which are among key birds that can be seen in the reserve. Al Suwaidi commented that the Al Hafiya and Al Qurm reserves were closed down at the end of last month to prepare for the work to be done. She remarked that a lot of birds and migratory bird species were seen in larger numbers than before, and also that the nests of green turtles were also observed on the reserve's shore, thus giving a big boost to the project's management to carry on with the redevelopment of the reserve. Al Suwaidi then revealed that scientific studies and research, which were conducted as part of the Kalba project, show brought to light numerous significant facts about the region's rich biodiversity, making it one of the world's most important natural reserves. She said that an integrated plan is under study with the aim of upgrading the institutional structure of the reserves within the project so as to be a strategic location for scientific study and research, as well as for environmental education and awareness-related activities in line with the latest international standards in the global and eco-tourism industry. Tim Rundle, Director of the International Conservations Authority, said, "H.H Sheikh Sultan's high level of awareness about the endangered natural areas in Sharjah and his vision for the need to preserve them have not only contributed to protecting these areas for future generations, but also to making them sustainable and promising areas for economic growth and the creation of job opportunities." He explained that the Kalba Eco-Tourism Project is unique in that it will cover an area encompassing the top of the Hajar Mountains, down through the forests and woods, to the Salt Plains, including mangrove trees and the shore, and finally stretch one nautical mile across the sea, all within an estimated area of 8 kms. He indicated that there is no other region in the Middle East with such rich natural biodiversity concentrated in a small area like this. Abdullah Saif Al Yamahi, Chairman of the Kalba Municipal Council, expressed his profound gratitude and appreciation for the launch of the Kalba project, and his extreme pride in the choice of Kalba, with its rich natural biodiversity, to be home to this exceptional project. He pointed out that the Kalba project will have a direct and positive impact on the residents of Kalba City, and will also stimulate the economic and social conditions in the City and its suburbs. Shurooq was established in 2009 with the aim of achieving social, cultural, environmental and economic development on the basis of Sharjah's distinct Arab and Islamic identity, so as to encourage investment by adopting the best international standards in providing quality services that help attract investors from the region and the world. The Authority's main mission is to provide the necessary facilities and incentives, to overcome obstacles facing investment activities in the Emirate, to evaluate tourism-related infrastructure projects, and to lay down the necessary plans and groundwork to complete such projects.