ABU DHABI // The Bu Tinah shoals, a tiny archipelago off the coast of Abu Dhabi, have made it into the final round of a competition to be named one of the seven natural wonders of the world. They are among 28 sites shortlisted in the New7Wonders of Nature poll, which started with more than 440 participants from around the world.
The other three finalists in the islands category are the Maldives, the Galapagos in Ecuador and South Korea's Jeju Island. The competition also focuses on landscapes, ice formations, mountains, volcanoes, caves, rock formations, valleys, forests, national parks, nature reserves, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and seascapes, grouped into seven categories. The announcement of the top 28 was made yesterday in Zurich, the home of the New7Wonders Foundation, the non-profit organisation behind the competition.
"I am thrilled," said Dr Thabit Zahran al Abdessalaam, director of marine biodiversity management at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) and one of the officials behind the Bu Tinah bid. "It makes me proud to be part of this exercise." Home to birds such as the flamingo, as well as turtles, dolphins, dugongs and a host of other creatures, Bu Tinah is a cluster of low-lying islands surrounded by coral reefs and seagrass beds.
The main island has a sheltered lagoon opening to the south, lined with mature mangroves. The area is part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in the country, with a territory of more than 4,000 square kilometres. The archipelago is a core zone within the protected area, meaning fishing is prohibited and only a limited number of supervised visitors is allowed. Besides flamingos, Bu Tinah is also visited by a number of rare migratory birds such as the Socotra cormorant and some species of tern. The area is one of the country's best places for dugongs - large but timid marine mammals that feed on seagrass. Some 600 out of the estimated 3,000 dugongs in the country live in the waters around Bu Tinah.
The archipelago is important for turtles, too. Its waters are foraging grounds for the two species of turtles most common in the UAE, while the shoals' sandy banks provide nesting habitat for the hawksbill turtle. There are also healthy coral reef habitats with as many as 16 species of coral recorded in the area. Candidates in the campaign are natural sites not created by nor significantly altered by humans for aesthetic reasons.
The poll started with more than 440 entries, out of which 77 were chosen by internet voting. A panel of experts, led by Prof Federico Mayor, former secretary general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), outlined the top 28 locations, chosen on criteria including beauty and ecological significance. They also wanted the finalists to be evenly distributed between countries and continents.
Voting for the new seven wonders of nature will continue throughout 2010 with the winners being declared the following year. "We now have to come up with a different strategy to campaign and make Bu Tinah more noticeable," said Dr al Abdessalaam. The New7Wonders Foundation was founded in 2001 by the Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker, author and adventurer Bernard Weber. email@example.com