Saplings are being planted to transform sandy tracts into a mangrove reserve that will double up to protect endangered turtles in Dubai’s Jebel Ali area.
The project by the Emirates Marine Environmental Group and consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble is in line with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's plan for more than half of the city to be transformed into nature reserves by 2040.
The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai made the announcement last month to dedicate 8 million square metres to green space and add a dozen beaches to make it the best city to live in.
Plans have already begun in one corner of the emirate with about 1,000 trees planted at the inauguration of the Dubai Mangroves Forest at the Jebel Ali Wildlife Sanctuary on Monday.
Maj Ali Al Suwaidi, president of the environmental group, said the aim was for at least 500,000 square metres of sand to be blanketed by greenery.
Authorities are working on plans to allow people to plant mangroves at the Jebel Ali Wildlife Sanctuary.
Maj Al Suwaidi made a beginning when he planted the first set of mangroves six years ago and transplanted turtle eggs almost two decades ago.
The area now has small clusters of mangroves within the sanctuary situated near the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border.
The stretches of beach are a breeding ground for endangered species including the hawksbill and green turtles.
"This is a very unique project and it is amazing because there was nothing at all here before I planted some mangroves about six years ago," he told The National.
"Because of the tide coming, the plants come up fast. The beach is very important because we have 32 turtles nesting this year. Last year, we had 46 endangered turtles. We care for them and it's amazing that it started with one nest in 2005."
Mr Al Suwaidi said he hoped for one million mangroves to be planted this year and for the numbers to go up to two million.
Schools and companies would be encouraged to join the campaign to tackle climate change.
But the environmental group will move forward cautiously to protect a delicate ecosystem since the sanctuary is a restricted area.
The group already organises community events so that school children and nature enthusiasts can be part of turtle release projects and mangrove planting.
"What Sheikh Mohammed thinks of the future, it's magic," Maj Al Suwaidi said.
“We are following Sheikh Mohammed’s strategy. Here there will be at least 500,000 square metres [of greenery]. I don’t want to open it for the public because a reserve needs small numbers. But we will encourage children and people who love nature to plant trees so they can take care of the environment.”
Mangroves, small trees that grow in saltwater, are an important part of the country's ecosystem.
They protect the coastlines from erosion, provide a breeding ground for fish species, absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Procter and Gamble said the Dubai Mangrove Forest project was in line with its plans to plant a dozen forests around the world over the next year in countries including India and the Philippines.
Omar Channawi, chief executive of Procter and Gamble in the Middle East and West Africa, said its goals matched Dubai’s conservation plans.
“We could not find a better time than this … with the 2040 vision and the ambition of the government of Dubai to have 60 per cent of the land covered with greenery.”
The company is keen on starting conversations on the issue of preservation.
“It is definitely a long-term commitment we are making here,” he said.
“We are starting with 1,000 and definitely we will go with much more than that … We do not think of sustainability in terms of return on investment, it’s a matter of existence.”