Bu Tinah is given Dh28m push

The island group is promoted for a global contest in a bid to be recognised as one of the seven new wonders of nature.

July 1, 2009- provided photo of Bu Tinah and it's spectacular array of land and marine species that have won it protected status as art of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in the United Arab Emirates
Credit: Sheikh Ahmad Bin Hamdan  *** Local Caption ***  Reference Sh Ahmad Bin Hamdan (22).JPG

ABU DHABI // The capital plans to spend Dh28 million (US$7.6m) promoting the islands of Bu Tinah, one of 28 finalists in a competition to find world wonders of nature. The tiny archipelago, 130km west of Abu Dhabi, is in the final of the New7Wonders of Nature contest, having won through from an initial 447 entries.

The winners will be selected in an online poll. To emerge as one of the top seven, Bu Tinah needs to capture the attention of international audiences. Part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, it is an undeniably beautiful location and a regional biodiversity hot spot. But to be selected as one of the seven winners in November next year, it has to finish in the voting ahead of many well-known landmarks, among them the Maldives, the Galapagos, the Dead Sea, the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon.

An international campaign to support Bu Tinah was launched on Thursday. It will feature advertising on regional television, as well as on major international networks, such as the BBC and Al Jazeera. The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) has also commissioned a short documentary about Bu Tinah, which is being shown on the official campaign site www.butinah.ae. Launched under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region and chairman of EAD, the campaign is focusing on Bu Tinah's conservation value.

"A vote for Bu Tinah is a vote for conservation," said Dr Thabit Zahran al Abdessalaam, EAD's director of biodiversity. Majid al Mansouri, the secretary general of EAD, said: "We all should be proud of the recognition that Bu Tinah has so far achieved and that it belongs to the UAE and the Arab world." Bu Tinah is a cluster of low-lying islands, surrounded by coral reefs and seagrass beds. There are sandy beaches, and the main island has a sheltered lagoon opening to the south, lined with mature mangroves.

These habitats provide important feeding and breeding grounds for rare animals such as dugongs, sea turtles, dolphins, flamingos, Socotra cormorants and ospreys. With its shallow, calm waters and extensive seagrass beds, Bu Tinah is one of the UAE's most important locations for dugongs. About 600 of the country's estimated 3,000 dugongs live in the waters surrounding Bu Tinah. The UAE is second only to Australia as the most important habitat in the world for this large but friendly animal.

The film, commissioned by EAD, features aerial views and shows herds of dugongs swimming. There is also underwater footage showing them "vacuuming" seagrass from the sea floor. A mature dugong needs to eat five per cent of its body weight in seagrass every day. The archipelago is important for turtles, too. The waters around Bu Tinah provide foraging grounds for green and hawksbill turtles, the two species most common in the UAE. The shoal's sandy banks are a nesting habitat for the hawksbill.

Dr al Abdessalaam said the diversity of species was particularly impressive considering the small size of the island. It is also unique in its ability to harbour marine creatures despite high salinity and hot summers. People can vote for Bu Tinah on www.new7wonders.com. vtodorova@thenational.ae