One of Abu Dhabi's largest wetlands will be temporarily closed to the public to protect nesting birds, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi said on Wednesday.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, known for its large population of greater flamingos, will stop welcoming visitors from March 31 for eight months.
Thousands of birds migrate to the reserve from central Asia each year to enjoy the warm winter, with more than 4,000 remaining for the full 12 months.
The pink-tinged flamingos started nesting in February this year – one month earlier than normal.
The closure is necessary to protect the nests and promote the reserve's biodiversity, said Ahmed Alhashmi, acting executive director for terrestrial and marine biodiversity at EAD.
"The success of the reserve in attracting important birds for nesting is a positive indication of the improvement in conditions and the provision of a suitable environment for the birds to breed,” he said.
"This indicates the sustainability of the ecosystems in the reserve, as well as the good management and protection, which enhanced the willingness of these species to start nesting and increase their numbers.”
EAD said its bird watchers spotted several other migratory and resident species settling down for the season.
Breeds such as Kentish plovers, black-winged stilts, red-wattled lapwings, ringed plovers and white-tailed lapwings were seen building nests on the ground close to the roads and around the lakes.
More than 17,000 people have visited the reserve this year. Another 3,000 are expected before the end of the month – the highest number of visitors recorded since the site opened in 2014.
The five-square-kilometre conservation site was established in 1998 by the UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.
The reserve has natural and man-made water bodies, salt flats, fossilised sands and dunes, which are densely packed with a variety of animal and plant species.
It also has designated walking trails, measuring 1.5km and 3km, which allow visitors to closely observe its natural habitats and wildlife.
The reserve has a visitor centre, bird hide and a viewing platform.
Al Wathba Wetland is the only site in the Gulf where flamingos have bred regularly since 2011. EAD researchers discovered three species of invertebrate new to science in the reserve, including a gasteruptiid wasp and a type of cuckoo wasp.
It was recognised in 2013 as a Ramsar site – one designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention established by Unesco.
The reserve was also the first in the region to be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature green list in 2018, joining 40 sites around the world.