‘We’re up against the Maldives and the Galapagos,’ explains the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s Laila Yousef Al Hassan. Bu Tinah, an island off the Al Gharbia seaboard, and located in UAE waters, has been recognised as one of seven possible wonders of the natural world. The prestigious title will be awarded following an international online vote, the results of which will be announced on November 11, 2011. So why Bu Tinah, and what chance has it got against its better known opponents?
Laila explains: ‘Bu Tinah has such a harsh climate and such high salinity levels in the surrounding waters, but we still have birds nesting in seven metre-high mangroves. The island has the world’s second largest population of dugongs (sea cows). This isn’t just a vote for Bu Tinah, it’s a vote for conservation.’
Before you charter a vessel, however, you should know that the island is closed to all but a select few. ‘I have been in the name of research,’ smiles Laila. ‘It’s beautiful. We have staff who live there in two-week shifts, monitoring it, keeping it clean; making sure people don’t approach it. They are marine rangers – Al Gharbia men whose families have been dealing with the sea for so long. They have an attachment to it.’
She tells me that, like so many landmarks in the region, the island’s name is taken from the way people once described it. ‘“Tin” means “mud”,’ she says. ‘“Bu” means “father”: the father of mud.’ Two or three graves have been found on the island, most probably belonging to pearl fishermen. ‘The life of a pearl fisherman was very hard,’ she sighs. ‘When their families said goodbye at the beginning of the fishing season, it was as though they were saying goodbye forever. So Bu Tinah is also representative of our culture.’
Bu Tinah’s main asset, of course, is the abundance of wildlife. A recognised UNESCO site since 2001, the prolonged lack of human intervention allowed nature to plot an uninhibited course. Amongst the endangered species that thrive on and around the island are the aforementioned dugongs and the critically threatened hawksbill turtle. Migratory birds such as the osprey and the Western-reef heron use it as a stop-off breeding site, and no less than three separate species of dolphin are common to the area. For 25,000 Socotra cormorants, Bu Tinah Island is actually home.
‘At first, people are dismayed when they find they can’t approach the island,’ Laila says, ‘but afterwards they see it as a good thing; that it is nice that the place is saved for the animals it was intended for.’
And if Bu Tinah ultimately wins a place amongst the prestigious seven? ‘It gets the title,’ she says, ‘but, really, it helps promote respect for the environment. You know, my grandmother used to re-use everything. She never threw anything away. We’re bringing that kind of respect back.’
For more info, head to www.butinah.ae. A 12-minute documentary is available via the website.
The osprey and Western-reef heron are regular visitors, but the Socotra cormorant nests here in numbers of up to 25,000, feasting on the rich invertebrate shoals that populate the biosphere.
The seagrass meadows and lack of human activity around Bu Tinah have attracted the extremely shy dugong in 2,500-strong droves.
Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins are all regular visitors to Bu Tinah’s clear waters.
The hawksbill turtle is amongst the most threatened species on the planet. Unsurprisingly, they choose Bu Tinah’s safe environment to nest and breed.
Float your voteThere are two ways to vote for Bu Tinah and help make it a new natural wonder
To vote online: Head to www.vote7.com and click ‘Vote Now’. Choose your seven wonders by clicking on the photos, and then follow the online instructions
To vote by phone: Call +448 721 840 007, wait for the end of the message, then type 7705