Ecosystems as Commodity Frontiers—Challenges Faced by Land Set Aside as Protected Areas (PAs) in the Dubai Emirate, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

  • Brigitte HowarthEmail author
  • Tamer Khafaga
  • Greg Simkins
  • Sabrina Joseph
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Economic History book series (PEHS)


This chapter examines natural habitats in Dubai, UAE that the state has demarcated as protected areas (PAs) in an attempt to utilize them for recreational/economic purposes while also mitigating habitat fragmentation. The authors employ the concept of the ‘commodity frontier’ to demonstrate how these PAs have contributed to the ongoing commodification of land that began with the rise of modern agriculture in the mid-twentieth century. The rise of the oil economy in the mid-twentieth century stimulated significant development that, over time, has resulted in ecological degradation. In line with state conservation agendas aimed at greening the desert and preserving biodiversity, PAs also serve as a mechanism for promoting tourism. Ironically, these activities have in turn put further pressure on the country’s natural resources and desert ecology. The authors also present an example of a PA that has been effectively managed and could serve as a model of sustainable development.



The authors wish to thank Dr. Gary Brown for discussion and supplementary information. BH also acknowledges grateful thanks to Zayed University for the use of the research vehicle during fieldwork.


  1. Batanouny, Kamal. Adaptations of Desert Organisms—Plants in the Deserts of the Middle East. Heidelberg: Springer, 2001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bierregaard, Richard O., Jr., Thomas E. Lovejoy, Valerie Kapos, Angelo Augusto dos Santos, and Roger W. Hutchings. “The Biological Dynamics of Tropical Rainforest Fragments.” Bioscience 42, no. 11 (1992): 859–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, Gary, and Benno Böer. Interpretation Manual of the Major Terrestrial Natural and Semi-natural Habitat Types of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Abu Dhabi: ERWDA Internal Research Report, 2004.Google Scholar
  4. ———. “Terrestrial Habitats.” In The Emirates: A Natural History, edited by Peter Hellyer and Simon Aspinall, 93–107. London: Trident Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  5. Environment Agency—Abu Dhabi (EAD). State of the Environment Report 2017. Abu Dhabi: EAD, 2017.
  6. Federal Law No. (24) of 1999 for the Protection and Development of the Environment.
  7. Feulner, Gary. “Geological Overview.” In The Emirates: A Natural History, edited by Peter Hellyer and Simon Aspinall, 41–63. London: Trident Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  8. Gallacher, David J., and Jeffrey P. Hill. “Effects of Camel Grazing on the Ecology of Small Perennial Plants in the Dubai (UAE) Inland Desert.” Journal of Arid Environments 66, no. 4 (2006): 738–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gardner, Andrew S., and Brigitte Howarth. “Urbanisation in the United Arab Emirates: The Challenges for Ecological Mitigation in a Rapidly Developing Country.” BioRisk 3 (2009): 27–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gulf News. “First of Its Kind: Hatta Hydroelectric Plant Study Underway.” Gulf News, October 3, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2018.
  11. Heard-Bey, Frauke. “The Beginning of the Post-imperial Era for the Trucial States from World War I to the 1960s.” In United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective, edited by Ibrahim Al-Abed and Peter Hellyer, 117–20. London: Trident Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  12. Howarth, Brigitte, and Michael P.T. Gillett. “The Terrestrial and Freshwater Arthropods of Abu Dhabi Emirate.” In Terrestrial Environment of Abu Dhabi Emirate, edited by Richard Perry, 379–463. Abu Dhabi: Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, 2008.Google Scholar
  13. Hvidt, Martin. “The Dubai Model: An Outline of Key Components of the Development Process in Dubai.” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 41 (2009): 397–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Isbell, Forest, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Michel Loreau. “The Biodiversity‐Dependent Ecosystem Service Debt.” Ecology Letters 18, no. 2 (2015): 119–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Joseph, Sabrina. “Farming the Desert: Agriculture in the Oil Frontier, the Case of the United Arab Emirates, 1940s to 1990s.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45, no. 5 (2018): 678–694. Scholar
  16. Joseph, Sabrina, and Brigitte Howarth. “Fertile Sands: Colonial Politics and the Development of Land and Water Resources in the Trucial States, Mid to Late 20th Century.” The Arab World Geographer 18, no. 3 (2015): 156–57.Google Scholar
  17. Kosoy, Nicolás, and Esteve Corbera. “Payments for Ecosystem Services as Commodity Fetishism.” Ecological Economics 69 (2010): 1231–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Law No. (11) of 2003 on Nature Reserves Within the Emirate of Dubai.
  19. MacArthur, Robert H., and Edward O. Wilson. The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.Google Scholar
  20. Moore, Jason W. “The Capitalocene, Part I: On the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 44, no. 3 (2017): 594–630. Scholar
  21. ———. “Sugar and the Expansion of the Early Modern World-Economy: Commodity Frontiers, Ecological Transformation, and Industrialization.” Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 23, no. 3 (2000): 409–33.Google Scholar
  22. Munster, Daniel, and Munster, Ursula. “Consuming the Forest in an Environment of Crisis: Nature Tourism, Forest Conservation, and Neoliberal Agriculture in South India.” Development and Change 43, no. 1 (2012): 205–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rader, Romina, Ignasi Bartomeus, Lucas A. Garibaldi, Michael P.D. Garratt, Brad G. Howlett, Rachael Winfree, Saul A. Cunningham, et al. “Non-Bee Insects Are Important Contributors to Global Crop Pollination.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 1 (2016): 146–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Scales, Ivan R. “Paying for Nature: What Every Conservationist Should Know About Political Economy.” Oryx 49, no. 2 (2015): 226–31. Scholar
  25. Seagle, Caroline. “Inverting the Impacts: Mining, Conservation and Sustainability Claims Near the Rio Tinto/QMM Ilmenite Mine in Southeast Madagascar.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 39, no. 2 (2012): 447–77. Scholar
  26. Simkins, Greg, and Tamer Khafaga. Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve Preliminary Report. Dubai: Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Report, 2016.Google Scholar
  27. The National. “Dubai Ruler Launches Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve.” The National, January 16, 2018. Accessed August 12, 2018.
  28. UAEinteract. “Agricultural Policy Has Been Successful: Humaid,” April 16, 2002. Accessed July 7, 2015.
  29. UNCCD Secretariat. Summary of the Second United Arab Emirates National Report to the UNCCD. Bonn: UNCCD Secretariat, 2002.Google Scholar
  30. van Harten, Antonius, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 1. Abu Dhabi: Dar Al Ummah, 2008.Google Scholar
  31. ———, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 2. Abu Dhabi: Dar Al Ummah, 2009.Google Scholar
  32. ———, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 3. Abu Dhabi: Dar Al Ummah, 2010.Google Scholar
  33. ———, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 4. Abu Dhabi: Dar Al Ummah, 2011.Google Scholar
  34. ———, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 5. Abu Dhabi: Department of the President’s Affairs, 2014.Google Scholar
  35. ———, ed. Arthropod Fauna of the UAE Volume 6. Abu Dhabi: Department of the President’s Affairs, 2017.Google Scholar
  36. ———, ed. Insects of the UAE: A Checklist of Published Records. Abu Dhabi: Dar Al Ummah, 2005.Google Scholar
  37. Watson, James E.M., Nigel Dudley, Daniel B. Segan, and Marc Hockings. “The Performance and Potential of Protected Areas.” Nature 515, no. 7525 (2014): 67+ (Health Reference Center Academic). Accessed August 15, 2018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Worster, Donald. “Transformations of the Earth: Toward an Agroecological Perspective in History.” The Journal of American History 76, no. 4 (1990): 1087–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brigitte Howarth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tamer Khafaga
    • 1
  • Greg Simkins
    • 1
  • Sabrina Joseph
    • 1
  1. 1.DubaiUnited Arab Emirates

Personalised recommendations