Scientific studies, however, have shown that, even though a tiny percentage of the land area of the Arabian Peninsula is areas of fresh water, there is a diverse range of 31 freshwater fish species, of which 23 are endemic, meaning that they are found nowhere outside Arabia. Some are common, but many are very rare and are endangered.
This fascinating aspect of the peninsula’s biodiversity is the topic of a new book, ‘Freshwater Fishes of the Arabian Peninsula’, published by Dubai-based Motivate Publishing and sponsored by Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority, EPAA.
Among the five authors, all experts in the field, are UAE-based Johannes Els, head of the Herpetology and Freshwater Fish Department of the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, part of the EPAA, and Gary Feulner, a Dubai-based naturalist who has been chairman of the Dubai Natural History Group for 25 years and has made a special study of the UAE’s mountains and wadis.
In a Foreword, Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, the EPAA Chairperson, notes that: “Increasing interest and greater appreciation of Arabia’s biodiversity in the last few decades has typically focused on large charismatic species and very little is known about the region’s freshwater fishes.”
“These unique valuable species and the ecosystems they inhabit are still largely overlooked,” Al Suwaidi says. “This important work will increase our appreciation of the region’s unique freshwater fishes and the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, before they are lost.”
Arabian freshwater fish, including those found in brackish water close to the coast, have been found in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the UAE, with most species being found in the Hijaz area of Saudi Arabia.
Seven endemic species are known from the Hajar Mountains of Oman and the Emirates, the two countries which have been studied the most.
Of the four native species recorded from the Emirates, one, the Hajar Lotak, is now believed to have become locally extinct. Another, the Orange-eared Garra, has disappeared from at least two sites over the last decade, and is believed to be threatened in at least two more areas, while a third, the Arabian Freshwater Goby, has disappeared from one major wadi system where it was once common.
Four introduced species which have established self-sustaining populations are also known from the Emirates.
Threats to native species include water extraction, the building of dams and other aspects of development.
Captive breeding of three of the most threatened species, all from outside the UAE, is being undertaken at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, BCEAW, in Sharjah.
‘Freshwater Fishes of the Arabian Peninsula’ is a detailed study that includes guides to identification, a look at the ways in which fish arrived in Arabia thousands or millions of years ago and a bibliography of all known publications dealing with the topic. Valuable for all interested in the UAE’s biodiversity, it draws on published data as well as the extensive fieldwork carried out by the authors and other researchers.