SHARJAH // One of the UAE’s untouched, natural islands is to be partially developed under new plans by Sharjah to promote eco-tourism.
Funded by Shurooq, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, Sir Bu Nair Island, 120km from Sharjah and 80km from Abu Dhabi, is a 13km-square island is a nesting haven for rare turtles.
It is one of two islands owned by the emirate, along with Abu Musa, and was declared a protected zone in 2000 by the Ruler of Sharjah.
Marwan Al Sarkal, Shurooq’s chief executive, said the plans for the Dh?500 million development project began two years ago.
“We wanted to create a destination that will really make a difference to the Sharjah tourism sector,” he said.
Sir Bu Nair has for decades been used as a shelter for pearl divers. Only 2 to 3 per cent of the island will be developed, on the cove at its tip.
The development will include a hotel, souqs, villas, a camping area, a marina, a museum and an amphitheatre as well as an education centre which will be used for school trips and as a research centre. The buildings will be designed in traditional Emirati style.
Hana Al Suwaidi, head of Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority, said its team, along with the World Wildlife Fund, had found about 385 turtle nests and believes there are three rare breeds of turtle on the island – the hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtle.
“The green turtle usually only nests in Oman,” she said. “We’ve not yet found any nests of the loggerhead but we have seen the turtles.”
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Other animals on the island include birds of prey such as the shaheen falcon and eagle, the spiny tail desert lizard and gazelle.
Endangered species discovered there include the mountain goat known as the tahr and the poison gobi fish (Gobiodon citrinus), both of which are on the “red list” of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Ms Al Suwaidi said the island would not be like Sir Bani Yas Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, which has been developed as a nature reserve, a breeding ground for the endangered Arabian oryx and a 5-star resort.
“This will be totally different,” she said. “Sir Bani Yas is more like a zoo because not all the animals there are indigenous, like they will be on Sir Bu Nair.”
Sir Bani Yas Island was originally developed as a wildlife reserve by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President, in 1971 to ensure the survival of the country’s endangered species. In 2008, an Anantara resort opened on the island, combining luxury travel with a desert wildlife safari.
Several million plants and trees have been planted on the island in addition to its natural mangroves. But the biggest project has been the breeding programme for the Arabian oryx, which was classified as extinct in the wild in the 1960s.
The island now has a herd of more than 500 oryx, which are all being gradually released back into the wild under a project run in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Environment Agency.
Sir Bani Yas also has a number of endangered animals, including sea turtles, sand gazelles and the blackbuck antelope.
Sir Bu Nair is Sharjah’s second eco-tourism project. Last year, it released the first phase of an eight-year breeding programme in Kalba with rare animals such as the mountain gazelle.
“Next year we will release the tahr, which is also on the red list,” Ms Al Suwaidi said.
The project includes development of natural reserves and restoration of archaeological sites, development of Kalba Creek and construction of a commercial complex with shops and restaurants overlooking the creek, as well as a hotel and villas.
Mr Al Sarkal said the diversity of Sharjah’s terrain, from coast to desert and mountains, allowed the emirate to diversify and offer more than simply a hotel stay. “We are creating different destinations but the main thing is not to disrupt the natural life there.”
Tatiana Abella, founder of Goumbook, a local non-profit organisation that promotes environmental awareness, said the project would be good for the emirate.
“Sharjah is way ahead of many places in this field,” she said. “Sharjah is huge on conservation. It has beautiful nature reserves and the wildlife centre but people do not tend to think of going to Sharjah, so this will maybe help them promote this aspect of what they’re doing a little more.
“The link with tourism will be good because it can promote that education and awareness.
“It’s good to create the awareness that the UAE is a very rich environment and is not just a desert.”