An 'oasis of tolerance' made out of hundreds of trees offering vital shelter for endangered species has been created in the UAE desert.
Gazelles and oryx will be among the wildlife to nestle under the shade of 600 ghaf and 1,000 markh trees in Al Faya, a remote stretch of desert outside of Abu Dhabi city.
The markh trees already planted by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) spell out the world 'tolerance' in both Arabic and English.
The trees, expected to grow up to 15 metres tall in the next four years, will serve as a natural windbreaker in an area which suffers from a continuous accumulation of dust.
Government organisations, private companies, diplomats from 15 countries and people with special needs joined together for the planting ceremony on Wednesday.
“We invited diplomats from all continents to celebrate the tolerant society we live in,” said Ahmad Al Hashemi, acting executive director of terrestrial and marine biodiversity for Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD).
The striking display is a fitting way to mark the Year of Tolerance, but is about much more than big letters which can be viewed from the skies.
“Once the trees grow taller and form a forest, it will become an attractive habitat for many species,” said Mr Al Hashemi.
The ghaf tree is beloved in the UAE, so much so that it was was declared its national tree in 2008, due to its cultural, historical, and environmental significance.
“The 'Oasis of Tolerance' celebrates the values of coexistence, harmony and tolerance and celebrates our diverse society that embraces more than 200 nationalities from a wide spectrum of cultures and religions living peacefully in the UAE," said Dr Shaikha Salim Al Dhaheri, secretary general of EAD.
“The Ghaf tree was especially chosen because of its ability to survive our country’s dry desert environment. It also represents a great cultural value in the UAE and is associated with our identity and heritage.
“One of the key ways we are helping to protect the ghaf is by understanding more about the species in order to protect it.
"This year, we carried out an electronic census and numbered 54,000 ghaf trees. This helped us identify their location and distribution and map them on a first-of-its kind map, which will help conserve the species and help to plan future projects. The distribution of natural Ghaf has been linked with rainfall rates, soil and groundwater salinity, and the prevalence of sand dunes.”
The ghaf tree has been nurtured and protected in the Emirates for many years.
Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the nation, outlawed the cutting of the tree and directed six million more be planted in Abu Dhabi.
There are currently more than 10 million ghaf trees in the emirate, which are protected by a federal law passed in 1999.