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An abundance of life thrives in Abu Dhabi’s marine protected areas

An abundance of life thrives in Abu Dhabi’s marine protected areas
10 July 2024 08:26

MAYS IBRAHIM (ABU DHABI)

Marine protected areas in Abu Dhabi are more than just swathes of pristine ocean; they are vital sanctuaries, offering a unique glimpse into the Emirates’ natural heritage along with unforgettable opportunities to encounter a rich array of marine life, safeguarded by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD).

Lucky Encounters

Al Saadiyat Marine National Park, located in the marine area adjacent to Saadiyat Island, is home to the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea turtle, known for its distinctive shells and hawk-like beak.

Visitors of this reserve, spanning over 59 square kilometre, are treated to encounters with playful dolphins and awe-inspiring sunsets, in addition to enjoying a wide range of non-motorised watersports activities such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking, and fishing.

Thriving Coral Reefs

Established by Amiri Decree in 2005 and 2009, Al Yasat Marine Protected Area is a blend of environmental, historical, and cultural significance. Thriving coral reefs encircle its islands, serving as crucial sanctuaries for diverse marine species.

The area, renowned for its rich biodiversity, supports unique marine creatures such as sea turtles, dolphins, and the endangered dugong, which live, breed, and forage within its waters. It also hosts migratory populations of diverse birds like flamingos and boasts a large breeding colony of Socotra cormorants, classified as vulnerable to extinction.

This breathtaking area is located in the western region of Abu Dhabi in Al Dhafra, spanning over 2,256 square kilometres. Adding to its allure are historical areas such as Al Ghagha, Al Qaffay, and Al Yasat. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy various activities such as recreational fishing, diving, and watching dolphins and turtles.

A Key Ecological Asset

Located adjacent to the eastern mangrove corniche, the Mangrove National Park spans 10 square kilometres and hosts millions of mangrove trees, making up almost 75% of the total mangrove forest area in the UAE. These trees play a vital role in carbon absorption, water purification, and protection against tidal surges.

The park is also a sanctuary for numerous bird and plant species, such as the iconic greater flamingo and western reef heron. Visitors can kayak through the mangroves, immersing themselves in this unique ecosystem on the city’s edge, where a colourful community of animals, including crabs, turtles, foxes, dugongs and dolphins, thrives.

Second-largest Population of Dugongs

The Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve accounts for 63% of Abu Dhabi’s marine protected areas, covering 4,255 square kilometres. It’s renowned for its rich biodiversity, including seagrass beds, coral reefs, and mangrove forests.

The reserve also boasts the world’s second-largest population of dugongs, along with a wealth of migratory birds and over 150 fish species. It holds significant cultural and archaeological importance, with over 20 sites dating back to the Stone Age found on its islands.

A Vital Sanctuary for Birds

Covering 145 square kilometres west of the Mussafah channel, Bul Syayeef Marine Protected Areas are vital for migratory and resident bird species, including the striking Greater Flamingo.

The reserve, which is part of the Ramsar Convention, features diverse wetland habitats such as mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass beds, hosting over 50 bird species. Visitors can also expect occasional sightings of endangered sea species, such as the hawksbill turtle and green turtle.

A Snorkeler’s Paradise

The Ras Ghanada Protected Area boasts the largest aggregation of coral reefs in the UAE and the Southern Arabian Gulf region. Spanning 55 square kilometres, this marine reserve is situated adjacent to Ras Ghanada and plays a crucial role in protecting the coastal region from hurricanes due to its valuable coral communities.

This underwater paradise is a magnet for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts, offering vibrant marine life encounters including turtles, dugongs, sea snakes, and clownfish.
 

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