RAS AL KHAIMAH // Officials and residents are concerned over the continued destruction of mangroves in the downtown area as more development cuts into the swamps. Work has begun on two acres (almost a hectare) of mangrove trees near Manar Mall to build eight high rises. More mangroveswill be uprooted to create a walkway from Manar Mall to Al Qawassim Corniche.
Protection of the mangroves has been a key priority for Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed, who has ruled RAK for more than 60 years, said Abdullah Yousef, the acting director of the Department of Public Works. He said he opposed developments in the mangroves and resisted the proposal for nearly a month. "I tried to remove [the development] from here but the land department specified it would be in this place," Mr Yousef said.
"I established Public Works in 1985. At that time Sheikh Saqr moved with me in my car and he was very angry if anybody put even a stone in this area." In the past 10 years, sections of the swamps have been sacrificed for new developments including a motorway, a golf club and two shopping malls. There are no plans for further development in the downtown mangrove area after the walkway is complete. The mangrove forest along the corniche is still not officially recognised as a protected area.
Youssef al Ashkar, the director of town planning and survey administration, who played down the issue, said: ""It's not allowed for them to build inside the mangrove area. "It's not allowed for them to build inside the mangrove area. What's done is only a few plots on the main road." Two of the three mangrove areas in RAK are protected areas in the emirate's master plan, a 2.12 square km coastal area in Mizahmi and a 3 sq km area in Dhaya. About 15 sq km of mangroves are left in Dubai and the northern emirates.
Dr Saif al Ghais, the executive director of the RAK Environment Protection and Development Authority, said: "I doubt there are any plans in the future. We have a proposal to preserve this mangrove swamp inside the city but I cannot tell you how it will be in the future." Younger residents have also expressed concern about further development in the swamps over its environmental impact. Badreyya al Shehhi, 20, a business student at RAK Women's College, said: "We are worried because they will build more new buildings after this. Many people live there and it's not good for their health and we need something to protect the people."
Musab al Tenaiji, 23, agreed that preserving the mangroves was necessary to the area. "Industry is growing here and affecting the environment, so we need to keep these trees to provide fresh air for the people," he said. Avicennia marina, known as the black or grey mangrove, is the only species of mangrove found in the UAE. Marine life including shrimp, snapper, grunt, rabbit fish and sea bream use the trees as nursery areas. They are also a habitat for turtles and migratory birds from Asia and Africa.
Their high tolerance to salt water also helps mangroves trap carbon dioxide more efficiently than trees that grow on more solid ground, making them important in the reduction of greenhouse gases in an emirate where air pollution has caused health problems in children, local doctors and nurses have said. "Tourists are coming here to see nature and building is good for business as long as there is not too much," said Ammar Mohammed, a 32-year-old Emirati. "Development is OK if it is limited, but of course it will affect the environment."