By Yasin Kakande
An island’s delicate ecosystem has been declared a protected area and added to a global list of unspoilt wildlife habitats of international importance.
Sir Bu Nair, about 112 kilometres off the coast of Sharjah, is now covered by the Ramsar Convention, a treaty for the preservation of wetlands signed by the UAE in 2007.
The pearl-shaped island is the second area of Sharjah to be given protection, after Al Ghafiya mangroves in Kalba on the east coast.
Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, made Sir Bu Nair a nature reserve in 2000. It had been a camp for pearl divers.
“Sir Bu Nair certainly deserves its recognition as a wetland of international importance,” said Lew Youn, Ramsar’s senior regional adviser for Asia-Oceania. “Despite its relatively small size of just 1,300 hectares, the site supports a high level of biodiversity for the region.
“Forty coral species and 76 reef-fish species have been recorded, including seven coral species that are classified in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as being vulnerable.
“The island is an important nesting site for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and supports the regional breeding population of the sooty gull.”
Mr Youn said the designation of Sir Bu Nair as a Ramsar site would help to ensure its long-term conservation and provide international standards for its management.
Other areas covered by the convention include Ras Al Khor in Dubai, Wadi Wuraya National Park in Fujairah, and Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi.
Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority, said the protection of Sir Bu Nair had started with studies aimed at preserving its fragile environment.
She said the island, with its natural beauty and sandy beaches, and its cultural and historical importance, was now poised to develop into an eco-tourism centre. The authority is also working with Shurooq, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, to coordinate plans to attract visitors.
Marwan Al Sarkal, the director of Shurooq, said any tourism projects would allow people to visit the area without damaging its environment.
There are 2,169 Ramsar sites worldwide, making it the largest network of conservation areas in the world.