As temperatures in Abu Dhabi begin to rise and we bid farewell to what was a relatively cool Emirati winter, beach lovers such as myself cannot help but think the weather is ideal for sun, sand and surf. But in my search for quality beach time in the city, I have found the pickings wanting, time and time again. Continued development in Abu Dhabi has seen white sand and turquoise water gradually disappear from the public eye, claimed by developments designed for the private sector. Although there are planned and completed projects to restore public-access beaches around Abu Dhabi, they are still a small portion of the city's waterfront.
I admit my beach craving and subsequent whining is, in part, a result of being spoilt by what seemed to be endless beaches during my time in California. Those beaches provided endless hours of healthy activity, such as swimming, jogging, surfing, volleyball, football, biking or even walking. The Golden State boasts more than 1,700km of coastline compared to the just over 1,300km throughout the entire UAE. But the noticeable difference between the beaches of California and those of Abu Dhabi is that much of the US state's coast is accessible to the public, whereas significant portions of Abu Dhabi's shores are not.
In Abu Dhabi, you can be charged upwards of Dh200 a day by hotels and beach clubs as a day guest to access much of Abu Dhabi's shores. At that price, many of the beaches become inaccessible for much of the public. Furthermore, many of the beaches are privately owned and will never be seen by public eyes. This was not always the case in Abu Dhabi.
In my adolescence, the public's choices of beaches was a lot greater. I remember enjoying the lengthy sandy walk from the Corniche to the water's edge on what was then called Adnoc beach, as it was located in front of the former Adnoc complex. The open beach provided a beautiful setting, with planted palm trees leading up to the crystal waters of the gulf. The same location now hosts the prestigious Emirates Palace, where even fewer of the city's residents can afford to spend a day on its luxurious private beach.
Ladies who wished for beach time away from the eyes of men also had it better. At that time, there existed not just one, but three ladies beaches around Abu Dhabi. Adjacent to the Adnoc beach, the Ras Al Akhdar area was the location of Bahr Al Hareem, or the Ladies Beach, staffed entirely by women. These settings provided a relaxed and comfortable location for many beach-loving women. Al Raha beach as well as the Abu Dhabi Ladies Club gave women further options of female-only beaches. All three have since shut down, making the Corniche family beach, which welcomes men in the form of couples and families as well as women, a poor alternative.
Thankfully, the Tourism Development and Investment Company of Abu Dhabi has begun tackling the issue of a lack of public beaches. The 3km-long Corniche beach has recently been extended to more than 4km, creating more beach for its roughly 300,000 yearly visitors. A further 700m public waterfront in Al Bateen is set to be completed this year. Already, 200m of this free-to-use beach has opened to the public and includes amenities such as a sports facility designed for football and volleyball, and temporary food stalls.
Another public project planned by TDIC will be a 400m public beach along the pristine shores of Saadiyat Island, which is scheduled to open this summer. This is the first of three public-access Saadiyat beaches incorporated in the long-term public beach plan, which also includes a "luxury" ladies-only beach club.
Although encouraging, these projects will still only make a fraction of Abu Dhabi's beaches available to the public, with the vast majority going to the private sector. The 400m public Saadiyat beach, for example, is a small part of the 9km stretch of the Island's natural beaches. Hotels and clubs, such as the Monte Carlo Beach Club which boasts an annual membership starting at Dh35,000, will lay claim to the rest of the Saadiyat shores.
The clear azure waters and brilliant white sands of the Abu Dhabi beaches are a local treasure that should be enjoyed by all the emirate's citizens and residents. This would display more of the city's beauty to its visitors, encourage healthy activity among the city's residents and increase their overall quality of life. The majority, and not the minority, of the city's as well as the country's coasts should be preserved, shared and made available to this as well as the many future Emirati generations to come.
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US