Abu Dhabi maritime authority considers opening up uninhabited islands in long-term plan

Plans would ensure islands have proper pontoons, bathrooms and other basic services

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Maritime authorities are considering plans to improve access to some of Abu Dhabi's uninhabited areas for leisure boat owners.

The plans deal only with boat access and do not involve development on land.

There will be designated pontoons, lifeguards and toilets, while a fee for access has not been ruled out.

It comes amid a surge in the number of people taking to the emirate's waterways because of Covid-19 restrictions on international travel.

We are working very hard to make the islands more organised and regulated

Abu Dhabi Maritime – the new body in charge of securing the emirate’s 45,000 square kilometres of water – said it was working to develop facilities.

“This will prevent people from docking their boats randomly around the islands,” said Abu Dhabi Maritime managing director Capt Saif Al Mheiri.

“We are working very hard to make the islands more organised and regulated,” he said. “This includes having cleaner beaches and adding facilities like bathrooms.”

The authority is also planning to introduce security and lifeguards. Capt Al Mheiri said they have not decided on a fee to access the new facilities.

Abu Dhabi Maritime was established in July to monitor the emirate's waterways.

Its work resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in accidents this year. Rigorous enforcement –  the number of fines has doubled from 42 in 2019 to 87 this year – and more frequent patrols played a role.

Jet skiers were fined for driving in unauthorised areas, not wearing life jackets, launching at non-designated slipways and operating at non-authorised times – including during the disinfection programme that took place this year to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

"There have been fewer collisions and people lost at sea," Capt Al Mheiri said.

Patrols always consists of two inspectors on the boat, and another on a jet ski.

The National joined Capt Al Mheiri and his team on patrol.

Approaching an unnamed island, the scene reflected a typical Friday spent at the beach. Children played, young people swam, while others played music. “This is one of the islands that we have development plans for," Capt Al Mheiri said.

"We will provide lifeguards and add pontoons for the boats to dock so that the boats [are separated from] swimmers.

“We won’t be touching the [ecosystem] of the island. We will leave it as it is.”

After making a few rounds around the island, the patrol set off to a new location.

“If we find someone littering, we ask them to collect it. If we find abandoned litter, we contact the municipality to pick it up.

"And if we find abandoned vessels or boats, we try to locate the owners to remove them. If we cannot reach them we remove them ourselves."

Environmental protection is also part of the day job for Capt Al Mheiri.

“Our concern is to avoid creating risks for the environment.”

His team played a role in monitoring and ensuring the safety of two whale sharks that entered Al Raha and Al Bahiya channels.

“They stayed longer than usual, often they would stay for a few days, but this time the visit lasted for about one month."