Bu Tinah rangers observe Ramadan in splendid isolation

Rangers say despite the heat of working outdoors, the solitude of the island makes it the perfect place to mark Ramadan and to fast, allowing them time for peaceful prayer and reflection.
Perfect place for Ramadan: the Bu Tinah ranger Hadhir Al Mehairbi.
Perfect place for Ramadan: the Bu Tinah ranger Hadhir Al Mehairbi.

ABU DHABI // On the tiny, isolated island of Bu Tinah, a group of rangers rises soon after dawn to carry out their daily duties.

They inspect the coast for rubbish that has washed ashore, patrol the waters for trespassers and observe Ramadan.

The men say despite the heat of working outdoors, the solitude of the island makes it the perfect place to mark Ramadan and to fast, allowing them time for peaceful prayer and reflection.

Hadhir Al Mehairbi, 47, is one of the rangers and one of the few to have set eyes on the tiny island, which is lined with mangroves and surrounded by coral reefs and seagrass beds.

Bu Tinah, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, is so rich with bird and marine life that it has been declared off-limits to the public.

The rangers are divided into two groups, taking turns to live for a week on the otherwise deserted island. They are kept busy with their duties.

During Ramadan, their day starts an hour early to limit the amount of time they spend in the sun.

At 5am, Mr Al Mehairbi and his colleagues are already in a boat, patrolling around the island. For 45 minutes they inspect the waters for fishing nets and other large debris, which are sometimes carried in by the currents.

The nets can harm marine life, causing rare dugongs and sea turtles to drown. Hundreds of the creatures roam the waters around Bu Tinah.

Once back ashore, the rangers walk along the beach, inspecting the island and removing human debris such as plastic bottles.

While the rangers remove litter left by humans, they do not interfere in natural processes. If they come across a dead animal they leave it to the elements, but they report the event on a database.

About 8am, the men retreat to the rangers' station where they monitor the environs of Bu Tinah by radar. The equipment alerts the rangers if boats are trespassing in a no-go buffer around the island. Mr Al Mehairbi said that did not happen often.

After another round of the island before sunset, the rangers are ready for their iftar meal.

"It might seem fasting is more difficult for us but it is not," Mr Al Mehairbi said, explaining that after six years on the job he is used to spending long hours outdoors.

The men cook their own iftar meal - meat, vegetables and desserts such as creme caramel.

"We spend so much time together, we are like family," said Mr Al Mehairbi, a father of seven.

He is looking forward to spending Eid Al Fitr with his family on the mainland. He misses them, especially during Ramadan.

Although the family will be together at Eid Al Fitr, they will be apart for Eid Al Adha. The rangers take turn with holidays and it will be Mr Al Mehairbi's turn on the island.

He said it was harder to be on the island for those holidays.

Yet despite the occasional hardships, Mr Al Mehairbi enjoys his job.

"My family are all sea people. I feel very connected to the sea and to Bu Tinah," he said. "When I go to work, I feel I am doing something important."

vtodorova@thenational.ae

Published: August 27, 2011 04:00 AM

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