Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi (CNN) – A very salty sea that warms to high planet temperatures in the height of summer is a hostile place for the survival of most vegetation.
Yet in one corner of Abu Dhabi, where saltwater laps the sun-scorched coastline, there’s a forest that not only survives, but thrives — creating a natural sanctuary for wildlife and a remarkably peaceful escape from the intensity of the desert and the cities of the United Arab Emirates.
Jubail Mangrove Park is a green expanse of gray mangrove trees on the northeastern tip of Abu Dhabi’s Al Jubail Island, where shallow tidal waterways flow into the clear blue Arabian Sea.
Opened as a tourist attraction shortly before the pandemic, the park now has a beautiful wood-paneled reception center and a network of attractive boardwalks that wind through the trees and over the water, offering up-close views of the flora and fauna of this wonderland. place.
It’s a quiet world away from the glittering skyscrapers and hot hustle and bustle of downtown Abu Dhabi, albeit only a drive away. Visitors can while away hours here, listening to the calls of birds, the watery slap of jumping fish and the lapping of waves.
“Being here is a healing process like yoga, especially at sunrise or sunset,” says Dickson Dulawen, a veteran guide who leads regular kayak or powerboat tours through the mangroves when the tides rise high enough to allow small boats to enter the heart. the forest.
“If you’ve had a really bad day, it’s a great place to relax.”
It’s not just humans who benefit from the mangrove’s restorative powers. Scientists say sustainable trees are also helping restore the planet, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, encouraging biodiversity and staying one step ahead of climate change.
Jubail Mangrove Park is an unexpected green escape from the deserts of Abu Dhabi.
The best way to see the mangroves work their magic is on the water, following guides like Dulawen in one of Jubail’s brightly colored kayaks. Trips take place during the day, and sometimes at night, depending on the tides.
Leading the way through a man-made canal, Dulawen points out the swarms of tiny black crabs that scuttle on the sandy beds around the base of the mangroves.
The plants have a symbiotic arrangement with the crustaceans, he explains. They chew on fallen leaves and hide from predators on branches, while dispersing seeds and breaking up dense saline sediment, enabling root growth.
Those roots are something to behold. Gray mangroves send out a star-shaped network of anchoring cables or roots which then sprout their own mini-forest of tubes known as pneumatophores, which poke above the water like snorkels, allowing the plant to breathe.
Pulling the kayaks onto a pristine sandy beach that emerges only at low tide — a perfect desert island — Dulawen invites a closer inspection of the mangrove fronds that seem to sweat the salt. It’s part of the process that allows them to grow in seawater that would be toxic to other plants.
Dulawen points out some other plants that make up the local ecosystem. There is a green and stubborn salt marsh samphire similar to the plant that is often found as a kitchen ingredient. He says the local Bedouins have traditionally used it as a medicine to treat gassy camels or horses.
A yellow flower that blooms on the roots of the samphire is a desert hyacinth, a parasitic plant often harvested for medicinal uses, including, Dulawen says, a natural alternative to Viagra.
In the unrelenting heat of an Arabian summer afternoon, out on the water, the mangroves must feel intolerable. However, with the warm waves of the tub splashing over the kayaks as Dulawen gently points out a call of flora and fauna, a dreamlike quality hangs in the air.
Crabbirds and green herons flutter here and there between the trees, perching to dance across the soft sediment. In clear water, the upside down jellyfish can be seen moving on the swaying sea grass. Dulawen says turtles are frequent visitors.
The mangrove’s gray roots sprout mini-forests of tubes that submerge above the water allowing the plant to breathe.
The tranquility of this corner of Abu Dhabi is partly due to the fact that it is off limits to the jet skis and pleasure boats that buzz up and down other areas of the coastline. Dulawen and his fellow guides help out, diligently picking up any stray trash and chasing down unwanted guests.
“There is no other place in the UAE that can compare to here,” he says proudly. “The clarity of the water, the natural wildlife. It’s ideal.”
And it keeps getting better. Government and private planting programs have led to an expansion of mangrove areas in recent years, both in Jubail and in Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangrove Park. For every tree lost to development elsewhere, three more are planted.
It’s an environmental success story, says John Burt, an associate professor of biology at New York University Abu Dhabi, who can sometimes be found paddling the emirate’s waters as part of his team’s quest to map the data. genetics of gray mangrove.
He describes mangroves as “ecosystem engineers” who not only build their own habitats, but create the perfect environment for many other species.
“They are a hotspot for diversity,” he says. The crabs are happy because of their mangrove arrangement. The fish are happy because there is plenty of food to feed their young. Fishermen are happy because the young grow into important commercial harvests in deeper waters.
And the birds are happy.
“These mangroves are on a migration route for many, many species of birds that fly between Africa and Eurasia,” says Burt. “In the fall season we’re going to see a lot of birds stop to rest and feed in that area because it’s important not only for providing habitat, but also a ton of energy in the food web through leaf fall.”
There is also something else. In our age of climate change, Abu Dhabi’s super-resilient mangroves may hold the key to predicting how environments across the planet will adapt to global warming and rising seas, and help mitigate some of the causes.
They are important as a “blue carbon sink,” a marine ecosystem that takes in more carbon than it puts out, Burt says.
“They’re absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and a lot of that energy goes into the root system,” he says. “And when they die … all the CO2 they took out of the atmosphere will stay there.
“As long as you don’t disturb the area with development, it represents CO2 sequestration. It can have the capacity to offset some of the contributions we’re making to the air from fossil fuel consumption.”
‘How very green’
An observation tower offers beautiful views of the sunset over the dense forest.
And, the professor says, because they thrive in the abnormally salty waters of coastal desert lagoons that in winter can be uncomfortably cold for a typically tropical species, Abu Dhabi’s gray mangroves may point the way for the species’ survival somewhere other in the world.
His team is looking at specific genes in local plants that are associated with “environmental resistance” including resistance to salt and extreme temperatures, hot and cold.
“I think this will be useful information to look at a country like Indonesia or Thailand and ask yourself what will happen to adapt to climate change,” he says.
Mangroves in other parts of the world may have the same strong genes as Abu Dhabi’s trees waiting to be awakened under the right environmental circumstances. And seeing these genes in action in Abu Dhabi could be a good sign.
“It lets us know there’s hope for systems like this,” says Burt.
Back on the ground with Dulawen, there’s time for a stroll through the sidewalks of Jubail as the sun sinks into an orange sky. It’s another peaceful experience, enhanced by a viewing tower that offers views over the dense canopy of leaves.
In the calm coolness of the evening, several couples and families are enjoying the scenery, among them the visitor Balaji Krisna.
“If you want to go and mix with nature, it’s a good place and not too far from the city,” he says. “It’s the only place in Abu Dhabi where you can see so much greenery.”
Leave a Reply