Saturday, June 22, 2024


UAE: A New Conservation Victory for the Discovery Islands

As the legacy of nature-loving Sheikh Zayed, a set of six paradise isles in the Persian Gulf have been permanently preserved as a haven for rare species.

(Discovery Islands Courtesy of

At first glance, the dry, arid desert of the United Arab Emirates doesn’t seem like the most hospitable place for wildlife, but offshore of Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf, a set of exotic islands are home to many fascinating species. The six unique Discovery Islands are close to the famous Sir Bani Yas Island, where the late founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, made it his mission to build a veritable Garden of Eden for creatures like giraffe, cheetahs, gazelles, and the endangered Oryx, a beautiful large antelope species native to the Arabian Peninsula.

Part of the same eight-island chain as Sir Bani Yas, known together with Dalma Island as the Desert Islands, the Discovery Islands themselves may be just tiny bars of sand, but they give refuge to rare breeds of turtles and cormorants, and dugongs and dolphins swim in the warm waters offshore. Human visitation to the islands has long been restricted, and they are completely uninhabited and untouched. However, plans outlined in the past few years for the Discovery Islands would have changed all of that in the most dramatic of ways.

(Image of Sir Bani Yas Island by NASA)

Considered by many to be the Gulf’s answer to the Maldives, the islands were slated for a multi-billion dollar development that included extensive irrigation, hotel complexes, increased tours and boat traffic, and other activities that would have forever altered their unique character. As reported in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, developers even had plans to use dredging to expand the small sandy islands to make them more suitable for tourism development. Promotional materials showed luxury resorts with overwater bungalows, just like those that made the Maldives famous.

But according to Der Spiegel, nature-lovers have a reason to cheer: any plans for the development of the Discovery Islands seem to have been entirely canceled.  Indeed, the paper reported that not a mention of the grand plans for Maldives-style resorts has been made in the last several years, and new conservation rules – including a new no-fishing zone with an 8km span around the islands – seem to indicate that there is little chance of the development proposals being resurrected.

(An Eco-Tour on Sir Bani Yas Island)

Tourists who wish to see the splendor of the Desert Islands for themselves are still welcome, despite the six fragile Discovery Islands now likely being off-limits for good. Sir Bani Yas Island, at a sprawling 21,500 acres, is more than vast enough to support its 64-room Anantara Resort and numerous eco-tours while still leaving plenty of breathing space for wildlife. So too, with Dalma Island; it has actually been inhabited since the Stone Age and boasts an impressive pearl industry, and offers a hotel for visitors.

Throughout his long life, Sheikh Zayed made it a personal mission to preserve the natural environment of the Arabian Peninsula, even going so far as to give up the rifle hunting of any animal. “We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage,” he was quoted as saying. “We shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage.” And with the preservation of the Discovery Islands, the UAE shows their ongoing commitment to the Sheikh’s noble dream.

Read the original article: Der Spiegel Online

Visit the official Desert Islands website: Link

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