By Vesela Todorova
ABU DHABI // Two remote islands off the coast of the emirate could soon join a United Nations list of protected sites for rare turtles.
The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has submitted a proposal to the Indian Ocean and South East Asia (IOSEA) MoU Secretariat to include Bu Tinah and Zirku Islands in their network.
The secretariat, which is based in Bangkok, is part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific.
The islands will be evaluated by the secretariat for several factors, including their ecological and biological significance, their governance as well as their regional and global representation.
Thabit Al Abdessalaam, EAD’s senior adviser on terrestrial and marine biodiversity, said that having the two islands included in the network would help ensure their long-term conservation.
“It will also yield a range of socio-economic benefits for the local community in the Western Region, as conservation also means cleaner coastal waters, protecting the habitat used as nursery grounds for seafood species that support commercial and subsistence fisheries and the overall protection of mangrove and reef habitat to reduce threats from coastal hazards,” he said.
Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, two – the critically endangered hawksbill turtle and the endangered green turtle – can be found in the UAE’s coastal waters.
In Abu Dhabi, EAD has been studying marine turtles since 1999. Surveys carried out by the agency have revealed the turtles inhabit at least 17 offshore islands. Populations have been estimated as 5,750 sea turtles inhabiting the waters during winter season and 6,900 during summer.
Bu Tinah Island, about 130 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi, is a core area of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, and has been recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation for more than a decade.
The island, which is home to the densest population of dugongs in the world, is managed by EAD and is considered a core area of the first marine biosphere reserve in the UAE.
In 2010, Bu Tinah made it to the Top 14 of the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition, where it competed against 447 natural sites around the world.
Similarly, Zirku Island, 140km north-west of Abu Dhabi, has rocky and sandy beaches that are important for marine and coastal wildlife. Its beaches are known to support the largest number of hawksbill turtle nests in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
If EAD’s proposal is accepted by the secretariat, the islands will be listed alongside famous global turtle sites such as Malaysia’s Sabah Island.