Dubai wouldn't be the first place you'd think of for wetlands. The focus is generally drawn to artificial islands in the Arabian Sea or Dubai's futuristic architecture. However, a mere 3 kilometres east of the Burj Khalifa, as the crow flies, are 6.2 square kilometres of protected wetlands, one of the few urban protected areas in the world.
Since 1985 Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary has been a home to 450 species of fauna and 47 species of flora. Wading through it, flying over it and nesting within it, are up to 25,000 migratory and resident birds.
A day spent at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary will soon have you shopping for self-focusing binoculars and a bird reference book. Twitching it's called and it's not only educational, it's surprisingly entertaining. Are you game?
Hides, when given a moment, are self-explanatory. It's from here the twitching takes place. Thatched bunkers with open sides, allow twitchers to study, photograph or simply enjoy the antics of the 88 bird species. Out of these, 9 are in internationally important numbers - over 1% of the world's population.
Winter in Dubai is the best time to observe the avian performance with January seeing the highest documented population. 1,000 Greater Flamingos inhabit the sanctuary throughout the year with more than 3,000 in the winter months.
Globally threatened species, Socotra Cormorants and Ferruginous Ducks have regular sightings while Black Winged Stilts and Grey Plovers have permanent residency. Hosting Mallards, Pintails, Common Teal and Pigeons in winter Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary also sees 20 bird of prey species - Imperial Eagles, Spotted Eagles, Lesser Kestrels and Osprey.
Keeping this avifauna population relatively stable is the abundance of invertebrate fauna. Worms, Molluscs, and Brachyuran Crabs are on the menu.
Ras Al Khor, meaning Cape of the Creek in Arabic, lies at the end of Dubai's 14km long Creek between the Arabian Gulf and Al Awir Desert. The lagoon inside provides a breeding ground for many of the 31 species of fish. High numbers of Milk Fish, Barracuda and Tilapia call the sanctuary home.
Occasionally, the odd dolphin visits the entrance of the Khor but never venture inside.
Gerbils, Ethiopian Hedgehogs, Arabian Hare and Ruppell's Fox are also supported by the wildlife sanctuary.
Mangrove nurturing has been key in the preservation and development of Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. 45,000 seedlings were planted between 1991 and 1994. Locally known as "gurm", the single species, Avicennia Marina has multiplied, producing and spreading seedlings through the upper mid-intertidal zone of the wetlands.
Acting as windbreaks protecting the coast from storm damage, preventing coastal erosion and enriching the soil, the mangroves also provide a breeding ground for crabs, fish, insects, molluscs, and shrimp. With effective waste management and constant monitoring, the mangrove forest is thriving.
Protecting and preserving the biodiversity of this ecosystem is important to Dubai Municipality. The Environment Department, in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund's UAE Project Office and sponsored by the National Bank of Dubai, is developing a sophisticated visitor centre with the aim of further educating on the biodiversity of this delicate ecosystem.
Entrance is free and Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Saturday to Thursday. A simple registration at the hides is required to record visitor data.
Experiencing this natural environment in the centre of Dubai: it's a thing we love....
Shona’s award winning travel blog shares tips and tricks on where to eat, drink, explore & shop in any given destination. At home ordering street food or perusing a fine dining menu, she seeks out venues with a conscience who promote local produce and sustainability. Find her in markets, museums, art galleries and on walking tours as well as wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants. Wherever she is, she’s always looking for something a little different to share with her readers. Follow her travels at www.paraphernalia.co or subscribe to her Shenanigans Report http://paraphernalia.co/subscribe-form/ so as not to miss a post. firstname.lastname@example.org.