ABU DHABI // From tomorrow, getting up close to the Socotra Cormorant to see what it looks like will be as easy as driving to the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
The shy water birds prefer to avoid humans and spend all their time offshore on spacious, sandy islands where they can breed undisturbed and catch plenty of fish.
But starting from this weekend, a plastic replica of the bird will be on display at an interactive exhibition on Corniche Beach.
Set up in a 16-metre-high dome, the Bu Tinah Experience will feature life-size replicas of other rare inhabitants of the protected island.
The dome will also play host to a mangrove nursery and a live marine turtle exhibit, as well as hourly public lectures by scientists.
The display aims to boost public support for Bu Tinah Island, a finalist in the global New Seven Wonders of Nature poll.
One of 28 finalists, Bu Tinah is competing against world-famous sites such as the Maldives Archipelago and the Galapagos Islands, 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador.
The seven winners will be announced on November 11.
"We are now six weeks away from the end of the New Seven Wonders of Nature competition. There are just 43 days left to vote for Bu Tinah," Eduardo Gonçalves, the director of the environmental awareness sector at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), said yesterday.
Situated 130km west of Abu Dhabi, Bu Tinah is a core area of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve.
This is good news for the island's inhabitants, many of who represent species that have been pushed to the brink of survival.
But the fact that the area is off-limits to the public has been a key challenge to the Bu Tinah campaign.
"Many people will not be fortunate enough to visit Bu Tinah Island because it is protected, so we have brought the island to Abu Dhabi," said Mr Gonçalves.
The display, while visually entertaining, also aims to educate the public about the importance of the tiny archipelago to Abu Dhabi.
Inside the dome, visitors will find a miniature model of the archipelago, surrounded by life-size models of its key species.
Besides the Socotra Cormorant, there are models of an osprey, a flamingo, a humpback dolphin and a turtle.
The dugong, one of Abu Dhabi's flagship species, is also represented in a 2.2-metre-long replica.
Abu Dhabi has one of the world's largest dugong populations, second only to Australia, said Dr Thabit Al Abdessalaam, the director of the marine biodiversity management sector at EAD.
A 12-metre-long tank holding several Hawksbill turtles is tipped to be the most popular part of the exhibit. The 50,000-litre tank will house turtles undergoing rehabilitation after disease or boat strikes.
The animals will be under the care of a team of marine biologists who will also explain to the public their habits and the importance of conserving the species.
The UAE has only one rehabilitation facility: the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, which is a joint effort of the Wildlife Protection Office in Dubai and the Jumeirah Group, a hotel chain.
Dr Al Abdessalaam said turtles recovered in Abu Dhabi had been taken there to recuperate and would spend about two weeks in the Bu Tinah exhibit pool before finally being released off the coast of Abu Dhabi.
EAD hoped to launch its own turtle rehabilitation scheme soon, officials said.
"We will be able to say something very shortly," said Mr Gonçalves.
The Bu Tinah Experience will run until November 13 - two days after the results of the global nature poll are due to be announced.
Up to 100,000 people were expected to visit the exhibit, Mr Gonçalves said.
"We don't just want 100,000 votes for Bu Tinah; we want 100,000 ambassadors for the environment," he said.
* To vote for Bu Tinah, members of the public can send an SMS with the words "Bu Tinah" to 3888. Voting can also be done online at www.butinah.ae