Shurooq, Sharjah's investment and development authority, has unveiled plans to develop a five-star hotel resort on the emirate's remote wildlife paradise of Sir Bu Nair Island.
At a briefing yesterday at the Arabian Travel Market, Shurooq announced that it would be developing part of the Unesco World Heritage Site island famous for its turtle nesting sites as a 100-room five-star hotel, 70 serviced apartments, private villas, a souq and an education centre.
Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, the chief executive of Shurooq, said the scheme would cost Dh500 million to build and would be located around a natural harbour traditionally used by pearl divers to shelter from storms.
He added that Shurooq was currently looking for investors to help finance the project but said the authority would press ahead with development whether or not investors were found.
Mr bin Jassim Al Sarkal said that construction work was due to start later this year and the scheme was scheduled to be completed in 2017.
It will also include a tent village, coffee shops, restaurants an amphitheatre, a museum and an activity shop.
He said the island would be likely to attract tourists for stays of up to 10 days looking to enjoy the natural environment.
Mr bin Jassim Al Sarkal said that the new scheme would not harm the turtles and other wildlife present on the 13-square kilometre island. He said it would promote activities such as diving, cycling, hiking, sailing, canoeing and snorkelling.
"We're not developing this project to just create a new destination," he said. "We're developing it because we believe in eco-tourism."
According to Shurooq, visitors will be able to access the remote island, which lies 65 kilometres off the UAE coastline in the Arabian Gulf, via a two to three-hour boat trip from Sharjah or by air from Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali or Sharjah.
Also speaking at the event, Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, the chairman of Sharjah Environmental and Protected Areas Authority, said that the island, also known as "Sir Al Qawasim" was home to 385 turtles as well as many rare species of marine birds such as peregrine falcons, alasards and alwaraqas. It is also home to rare fish, coral and seaweed species. She added that it had yielded archaeological finds dating back to around 3,500 BC.
"Sir Bu Nair is one of the most important environmentally protected areas in Sharjah," she said. "Biodiversity and the natural environment tops the list of priorities and interests for His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah [Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed]."
Development of the island would boost Sharjah's tourism sector, which despite growing visitor numbers, remains dwarfed by its larger neighbour Dubai.
This week the emirate announced that during the first three months of this year the number of guests staying in its hotels increased by 8 per cent compared with a year earlier to 466,218. It said that average occupancy increased to 80 per cent compared with 78 per cent the previous year.