Coronavirus: wildlife returns to Abu Dhabi's skies, sea and mountains as humans stay home

Dugongs, flamingos and Arabian Tahr have been seen in new areas since Abu Dhabi brought in movement restrictions

Wildlife in Abu Dhabi have thrived as people have stayed home. Photo courtesy: Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
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Stay-at-home measures helped wildlife including sea turtles, dugongs and Arabian Tahr to "thrive" in the absence of human activity, new findings from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi showed.

The agency found that wild animals and vegetation was flourishing as skies, seas and desert grew quieter and cleaner due to government-imposed restrictions on movement.

“The several months of ‘Stay at Home’ measures have showcased the real and apparent impact of human and business activity on the environment,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, the agency’s secretary general.

“This has allowed us to rethink how we as a community interact with the environment and how we need to play our part to ensure these environmental gains are sustained and continue to grow as restrictions continue to ease."

With boats and jetskis moored, sea turtle nesting activity increased along the mainland coasts of Abu Dhabi, particularly in Ras Ghanada Protected Area and Al Sila in western Abu Dhabi, an indication of a healthy environment.

The dugong mortality rate dropped as waters grew quiet. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
The dugong mortality rate dropped as waters grew quiet. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

Additionally, there was a significant decrease in dugong deaths.

Reduced movement, noise and light pollution also encouraged wildlife to return to urban centres. A large number of mountain gazelles were spotted close to the golf course on Saadiyat Island.

In Al Ain, a female Arabian Tahr was seen at the base of Jebel Hafit for the first time. The species usually remains at higher altitudes of the mountain. Additionally, three little owl nests were discovered on the mountain.

Birds also returned to residential areas as a result of people being at home and feeding them.

Air quality also improved. Within the first six weeks of stay-at-home measures, nitrogen dioxide levels in the emirate dropped by half.

“During this period, we have recorded improved air quality, with a significant decrease in nitrogen oxide levels in Abu Dhabi,” Dr Dhaheri said.

“The decreased pollution levels across the emirate is further supported by our recent biodiversity survey that reveals a healthy and thriving ecosystem.”

Flamingo breeding activity has increased by 12 per cent. Louise Burke / The National
Flamingo breeding activity has increased by 12 per cent. Louise Burke / The National

More birds filled the skies at Al Wathba Wetland reserve, with increased reproduction of birds like Kentish birds and black-winged stilts.

Flamingos were seen in areas they had previously avoided and had a 12 per cent increase in breeding activity, with 1,260 nests this year.

Finally, more plant growth and diversity was recorded.

The changes are not limited to Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, a pod of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins was sighted near the Burj Al Arab for the first time since 2013. Divers returning to waters in Fujairah said the number of fish had quadrupled since early March.

On the flip side, environmentalists have warned that millions of discarded face masks, gloves and disposable protective gear could end up polluting the world's oceans and pose a huge threat to marine life.

Measures imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus forced a third of the world's population into lockdown at one point.

The UN's World Meteorological Organisation said that improvements to the environment are temporary and long-term plans were still needed to address climate change.

The world is likely to hit a new global temperature record within five years if nothing is done to reverse climate change.