x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Motor club seeks to end desert damage

Tour offers chance to explore desert with experienced drivers and get tips on how to minimise environmental impact.

Volunteers drive in the desert to collect rubbish and advise campers and off-road motorists on the best way to preserve the environment.
Volunteers drive in the desert to collect rubbish and advise campers and off-road motorists on the best way to preserve the environment.

UMM AL QAIWAIN // A group of desert enthusiasts will take to the sands of the emirate this weekend to try to teach campers and desert drivers to take better care of the environment. The tour offers the public the chance to explore the beauty of the desert with experienced drivers and receive tips on how to minimise their environmental impact.

Drivers will also visit popular campsites and tourist areas and warn people about the impact of littering and off-roading. They will lead by example, collecting rubbish they find along the way and sticking to established trails. Littering in the desert has become more of a problem since the economic crisis as local residents have turned to desert driving as a cheaper alternative to city entertainment, said Mohamed Idris, the projects manager of the Hobbies Club and a member of the Desert Lions Off Road Academy.

He estimates there has been an increase of about 40 per cent in the number of desert drivers in the past year, substantially raising the amount of rubbish. "Ten to 15 years ago it was a very small amount of garbage, you didn't notice it, but in the last year it has increased a lot," he said. "With the recession there are a lot more people here. If they want to do entertainment at a hotel they have to pay. In the desert, you just take your food and your car and you go."

In the desert's sensitive ecosystem, any pollution can have serious consequences for flora and fauna, Mr Idris said. Litter is not only a danger for the environment, it also may affect the country's tourism sector. A guest going on a sand tour could be put off by accumulations of unsightly rubbish when they are expecting to see a pristine landscape, said Suresh Lalgee, the chairman of Desert Safari Dubai.

"If anybody comes to Dubai they won't go back without doing the desert safari," he said. "It is a different experience altogether in the sense of the dunes and the colours of the sand. "We have to do everything to look after the environment and I think that all the tour operators are aware that we have to contribute towards it. "We have seen more water bottles and things like that. I am concerned. It should be kept as it is so that the beauty is there."

This weekend's fun drive is part of the Desert Environment Protection Campaign 2010 that runs from January 1 to March 3. It was organised by the Dubai Municipality, the Dubai Hobbies Club and the Ministry of Environment and Water. Building on last year's success in Dubai, the campaign will be extended to Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and Umm al Qaiwain. This week's tour will leave from Falaj al Mualla in UAQ and circle the emirate to the Mizra'a area on the RAK border. As a warm-up for the coming event, the Desert Lions campaigners held a 21-hour rally last weekend that covered 217km in the desert surrounding Al Ain.

In addition to weekly desert quad bike and 4x4 tours, the public and schools can enjoy a 1,000m nature walk at the Rashid Camp in al Aweer that displays the variety of UAE plants, insects and wildlife. Volunteers are welcome to join the Hobbies Club and set up their own activities. More than 200 people participated in organised events last year in addition to the hundreds of schoolchildren who visited the camp in Dubai.

Desert drivers welcomed the initiative, noting that cleanliness is improving in some areas thanks to better public awareness and the introduction of waste baskets at popular campsites. azacharias@thenational.ae