Authorities in Abu Dhabi are carrying out twice-daily patrols to protect an ancient rock formation that was recently damaged by vandals.
A carving and message scrawled in graffiti were discovered at the Fossil Dunes site in Al Wathba by volunteers during a clean-up event in April.
A team from The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) has since removed the spray paint and stepped up inspections.
The site was created over thousands of years, when sand swept by the wind was mixed with calcium carbonate, causing it to harden and form natural sculptures that rise up from the sand.
Their shape was changed by the wind over time.
But they are extremely fragile, and concerns have been raised about visitors climbing on them and littering the site.
Officials have installed signs warning people against damaging the fossilised dunes and have organised regular clean-ups of the area involving members of the public.
During the last two campaigns, about 300 kilograms of waste was collected by 100 volunteers, EAD said.
“EAD has prepared and implemented a monitoring programme by conducting morning and evening patrols on the site to ensure the protection of the area’s environment and prevent infringements,” said Ahmed Al Hashemi, EAD’s acting executive director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity.
“An inspection and control team consisting of four environmental inspectors implemented approximately 1,400 hours of inspection tours in the morning and evening periods, at a rate of 16 hours per day during the first quarter of this year.”
The popular visitor attraction is on the outskirts of the city and can be reached by road.
Dr Sheikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD’s secretary general, said there is nowhere else like it in the UAE.
“These distinctive and rather rare sand formations are densely located in the Al Wathba area to the south of the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve,” she said.
“These fossil dunes, which are also present in other areas of the emirate, have been classified as lithified sand dunes under EAD’s Habitat Map and serve as an important habitat for many wildlife species.”
A team of biodiversity experts and engineers who have visited the site 20 times in the past three months has been asked to develop a comprehensive plan to protect the site, she said.