x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Less than one month left to become a champion of Bu Tinah

Bu Tinah Island is the UAE's undisturbed slice of paradise, the only finalist from the Arabian Gulf in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition. Residents can make it a winner.

For two years running, the UAE has been recognised as the world's largest cultivator of date palm trees by the Guinness World Records. Our late father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan said: "Provide me with sustainable agriculture, and I will ensure you a civilised society." That vision of environmental stewardship persists today.

Another example of stewardship is evident in the campaign to recognise Bu Tinah Island in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Bu Tinah's waters provide habitat for different species of dolphins, dugong (baqarat al bahar in Arabic) and Hawksbill turtles, which are critically endangered in part because of the high value placed on their shells.

The New 7 Wonders of Nature competition is a Switzerland-based popularity poll of nature attractions worldwide, with voting ending on November 11. And as of two weeks ago, Bu Tinah had not moved in the standings among the 28 shortlisted natural treasures of the world. Sadly, last week it lost ground.

Led by the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi, the campaign is lacking public and private participation. At present, the agency's hard work has been like one hand clapping, which obviously does not generate a lot of noise.

There are models we could emulate: in Poland, the ministry of education encouraged a vote across the school system to promote their own candidate, the Masurian Lakes. I can imagine how many students had their eyes opened about a natural treasure in the own country. Regardless of the vote, the lakes will remain in students' memory forever.

Local government and companies should get involved by encouraging employees to vote as well. We can all help Bu Tinah win the title. Several members of Royal families have already cast their votes to encourage other people to do the same.

Perhaps you may recall when President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives conducted his relentless campaign to raise awareness about climate change and the very real possibility that the 1,200 islands that make up the country could be submerged.

His initiative? He held a cabinet meeting underwater with ministers using hand gestures, wearing wetsuits and writing with waterproof pens seven metres below the surface. It was an image that attracted worldwide attention.

Emiratis and residents of the UAE tend to travel a lot, and we appreciate other people's cultures, making an effort to visit tourist attractions overseas. We should make the same effort to find out more about Bu Tinah, which is only 130 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi. This campaign could be vital in promoting awareness about the island and the Marawah preserve.

There is a certain amount of irony in the recent visit of Kim Kardashian who, according to one of the local newspapers, was supposed to "make the UAE shine". For whatever reason, many locals were captivated by the American celebrity, posting her picture and tweeting their feelings about Kardashian's milkshake promotions. It's a pity to think that star attraction gained more attention than Bu Tinah.

How many UAE couples read about the Maldives when planning their honeymoon? How many Emiratis have visited Beirut - or dreamed of far-off places like the Amazon? And yet the marvel of Bu Tinah is right here.

The Environmental Agency deserves credit for its campaign, which has seen a roadshow criss-cross the country showcasing this natural gem. Sadly, not enough votes are being gathered from Emiratis - indeed, many votes for Bu Tinah have been coming from outside the country.

This island is the UAE's undisturbed slice of paradise, the only finalist from the Arabian Gulf in the competition. With less than one month left, we should be proud that Bu Tinah is shortlisted and take pride by texting "Bu Tinah" to 3888. It's the least we can do.


Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti Al Maktoum is a social commentator based in Dubai