Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 13 July 2020

Jubail Mangrove Park is finally open, so now can we please keep it clean?

The park is an advocate for protection of the UAE's natural habitat: visitors need to respect that and keep their litter to themselves

Just like most people in the UAE, I had been hearing about Jubail Mangrove Park for a while. The outdoor attraction was years in the making, but not much was known about the specifics. As curiosity mounted, coupled with the lovely weather urging us to head outdoors, checking on the status of the park became something of a hobby. The launch date was finally announced, and I made it to the venue on opening day, January 30a chilly Thursday when the tides were high and the sky was clear.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be a natural preserve? Or a boardwalk above the water? Well, it turned out to be a combination of the two, but somehow the outcome exceeded my high expectations. What I found was pristine nature in all its glory. There are no gimmicky activities that could endanger the environment. The primary attraction isn’t the boardwalk or the man-made features, it’s the beauty of nature, and the chance to get up, close and personal with it.

“In Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the UAE, there are limited ­attractions that allow people to interact with the natural environment,” a ranger, who showed me around, explained. “But over here, every direction you look, there’s something moving or living. It makes such a big difference.”

He isn’t wrong. The mangroves stretch out as far as the eye can see, and the only sound breaking the silence is the occasional bird chirping. The water, at the time, was crystal clear, offering a glimpse of the schools of fish and the odd slow-moving crustacean. It also allowed me to see the roots of the mangrove trees, poking out from the ground, that spread a lot further away from the trees than one might have imagined.

It isn’t just an attraction, but a natural preserve, educating people on the UAE’s local landscape, and fiercely advocating for its protection

“With this park, you can see what a mangrove really does, holding the soil together, stopping the erosion,” the ranger explained. “A lot of people don’t realise that if the mangroves disappear, so does the shoreline.”

Perhaps this is the real beauty of the park: it isn’t just an attraction, but a natural preserve, educating people on the UAE’s local landscape and advocating for its protection. It has specialists for the mangroves, bird life and marine life, and even a nursery of sorts where mangrove saplings that are “under stress” can be cordoned off, away from human contact. It also has a set of rules put in place to minimise disturbance of the natural environment. No food, no littering, no fishing … the list goes on. The rangers speak softly, so as not to scare away the wildlife, and even the closing time of the park, 6.30pm, was chosen so that no birds or fish are disturbed by artificial lighting.

As we walked along, taking time to stop and look at the water and take the occasional picture (it had to be done), the ranger told us titbits about the trees, which have been in the region “since the early days of the Emirates”. “Did you know that mangroves filter the seawater that enters its roots? A lot of plants don’t handle saltwater well, but mangroves can filter out a huge percentage. This species especially is very saltwater-tolerant. That’s why they thrive here,” he explained.

Jubail Mangrove Park is located on Al Jubail Island. Antonie Robertson/The National
Jubail Mangrove Park is located on Al Jubail Island. Antonie Robertson/The National

We strolled through the longest route, stopping by various educational nodes, or areas, each designed with a different informational aspect in mind. A floating platform has a net floor, giving people a better glimpse of the water below. A salt collector installation features bowls placed at different levels that fill up according to the tides. A personal favourite is the beach tower, a low-lying platform where visitors can get their feet wet. Before I knew it, an hour was gone in the blink of an eye.

While littering isn’t an acceptable thing to do anywhere, extra precautions have to be taken in natural environments

As we exited the attraction and made our way back to the visitor’s centre, I noticed paper littering the floor. The ranger immediately spotted it too, picked it up and properly disposed of the mess. This was barely a few hours after the park had opened to the public.

Over the weekend, Jubail Mangrove Park was easily one of the most visited spots in Abu Dhabi, as thousands flocked to the new attraction. But while social media was brimming with positive remarks and pictures, there were also concerns being expressed about the volume of the crowd, its effect on the environment, and the pamphlets and other rubbish that were being thrown around.

While littering isn’t an acceptable thing to do anywhere, extra precautions have to be taken in natural environments, where the things casually thrown about can easily impact all living beings in it. At the end of the day, it’s important to take note that Jubail Mangrove Park is an ecological site that allows people to closely interact with Mother Nature. How we choose to behave during this interaction says a lot about us as a species, so let’s be careful.

Updated: February 6, 2020 11:36 AM

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