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ERWDA Releases Book on Abu Dhabi's Largest Island

posted on 25/10/2002: 3352 views

The Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) has released a new book entitled 'The Island of Abu Al Abyad', which depicts the natural history of one of the largest islands in the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairman of ERWDA, has called Abu Al Abyad in the book's forward a unique environment whose areas have been preserved in their original character, making the island a refuge for several rare species. "They move freely and benefit from the abundance of food and freedom in the absence of hunters, all in a world where areas like this are hard to keep unspoiled" he added. Sheikh Hamdan hoped that this book is the start of more detailed studies to come on the island, because it holds treasures of great importance of many historical, environmental, and civilization aspects.

Mohammed Al Bowardi, ERWDA's Managing Director underlined the main features of Abu Al Abyad island in the book's introduction. "So named after its dazzling white appearance, Abu Al Abyad is situated 125 km. west of Abu Dhabi and is one of the largest islands in the UAE. It lies within the southeast corner of Marawah Marine Protected Area, which covers an area of 5,561 km2. Its precious environment is being preserved with efforts exerted to protect the ruins and the heritage, as well as the living creatures that inhabit the island", he said. Mr. Bowardi said "In the past, Abu Al Abyad was used extensively as a base for the pearl industry, the rich legacy of artefacts bears witness to this. The earliest clearly recognisable historical references to Abu Al Abyad dates to the 1820s, although it is believed that Abu Al Abyad was probably continuously occupied, perhaps seasonally, throughout the last 7,000 years all the way up through the last 300-400 years, when it was a centre of the pearl fishing industry." "Today the links with the sea remain just as strong with a thriving mariculture industry on the island" he added. Mr. Bowardi said "The presence of coral reefs and extensive sea grass beds adds to the diversity of marine life surrounding the island, supporting a wide array of fish species and providing important habitat for the endangered hawksbill turtles and dugongs."

The low lying topography of the island, interspersed with a few scattered small hills, rises to about 50 metres in the centre of the island. The island is covered with a mosaic of sabkha (inland or coastal saline flats) mingled with stony gravel and sandy deserts, fringed by a narrow strip of mud and marine sand covered mostly with mangrove plantations that border much of the island. Mr. Bowardi said that Abu Al Abyad Island has an arid desert climate that is characterised by low rainfall and high temperatures and a prolonged dry and hot summer. Because of the arid climate, the saline soils are nutrient poor, and high evaporation rates limit water availability for plant growth. The vegetation on Abu Al Abyad is therefore generally sparse but well adapted to these harsh conditions.

Of the native mammals to be found on the island, the Arabian Oryx is by far the most spectacular. Populations such as those currently found on Abu Al Abyad represent one of the best hopes for re-introduction of these magnificent animals to the their original desert rangelands. Other native mammalian species to be found on Abu Al Abyad include the sand gazelle, mountain gazelle, and desert hare. Bowardi noted that Abu Al Abyad is rich in bird life, with 217 species recorded on Abu Al Abyad in the last ten years representing over half of those listed on the national checklist for the UAE. There are 19 confirmed breeding species and over 150 regularly visiting migrant and over-wintering species recorded from the island. In terms of its population size, Crab plover (Dromas ardeola) is actually the only internationally major breeding species on Abu Al Abyad.

While the island's breeding population of Saunders' little tern (Sterna saundersi) is deemed of national importance, it is the visiting population that is of international importance, exceeding the 1% level in both autumn and winter.

Bowardi praised the guidance and support at all stages of H.H Sheikh Hamdan, which led to the publishing of this book, which was initially conceived and subsequently compiled from the contributions of experts in various chosen fields. He noted that "The invaluable knowledge and expertise provided by the various expert authors provide the basis of a body of knowledge upon which to build and make informed decisions concerning the future of Abu Al Abyad island". He hoped that this book would be the first of a series on other islands and areas of note within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, of which there are many varied locations of great interest. "In line with Goal Six of the Environmental Strategic Action Plan for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi that is to achieve "A society with increased Environmental Awareness", the Agency will support all serious studies that contribute to this goal and improve awareness about our wonderful country" he pointed out.

The 130-page book in Arabic and English, authored by a galaxy of prominent local and foreign researchers and academicians, is considered a rich source of updated information, facts and statistics for scientific and academic research on the natural history of Abu Al Abyad. The book draws together information from a wide variety of sources and is illustrated with numerous maps and colour photographs. This book provides a detailed yet very readable account of the natural history of the island of Abu Al Abyad. Containing six chapters, the book is an invaluable resource on the island's geological, archeological history, spectacular wildlife, and its frequent visitors, which include more than 150 migrant species of birds as well as its natural vegetation.

The book's first chapter written by Dr. Yousuf El Sammani, Lecturer at UAE University's Geology Department and Mr. Azhari Abdulgadir a geologist for an oil company in Abu Dhabi, deals with the geology and other factors that have helped to shape the island. The second chapter sheds light on the island's archaeology and catalogues the richness of archaeological finds that bear witness to the long occupation of the island by man. This chapter was written by Mr. Peter Hellyer, Executive Director of Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, (ADIAS) and Daniel Hull, Archaeologist. Abu Al Abyad's marine environment is depicted Mr. Thabit Z. Al Abdessallam, Head of ERWDA's Marine Environment Research Center and Dr. Omer M. Yousif, Projects Leader for Abu Al Abyad Island's management in the third chapter.

The chapter describes the island's marine environment and the plants and animals found around Abu Al Abyad, as well as the mariculture industry on the island. Dr. Amrita De Souza, Head of ERWDA's Terrestrial Environmental Research Center (TERC) and Christopher Drew, Scientist of Mammalian Ecology at TERC describe the major mammalian species that can be seen on the island. Detailed coverage of the rich avifauna on the island was done by Simon Aspinall, Ornithologist, in chapter five, while in the sixth chapter Mr. Fawzi Karim , botanist, describe how factors such as soil and climate influence the vegetation of the island. ERWDA anticipates this book will help the public discover the UAE's abundant wildlife and at the same time set off and encourage further detailed research covering the coastal island and others like it in the Abu Dhabi Emirate and the entire UAE. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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