Al-Rufaiq lies approximately 50 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi, and immediately east of Abu al-Abyadh. Like many of Abu Dhabi's inshore islands, its surface geology is a combination of salt flats (sabkha) and low outcrops of limestone. Natural vegetation is salt-tolerant halophytic plants, although there are several small irrigated plantations. During winter, the inter-tidal areas around the island hold important numbers of migrant waders. A colony of several hundred Socotra cormorants (Phalocrocorax nigrogularis) is present annually on an islet just north of Al-Rufaiq, one of less than 15 extant colonies in the Arabian Gulf.
Archaeological sites on Al-Rufaiq indicate occupation from the early first millennium AD until recent times, probably by fishing communities. Finds included imported pottery, hearth sites and shell middens.
Modern technology and the UAE's ancient heritage co-exist happily on Al-Rufaiq, with the island's key archaeological sites being situated close to two wells in the Dabb'iya oilfield, operated by the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO).
The archaeological sites were identified and then protected during special survey work commissioned by ADCO as part of its policy of protecting the UAE's environment and heritage.