UMM AL QUWAIN // The Khor Al Beidah wetlands attracts thousands of birds, as well as flocks of birdwatchers.
“You have 25 different species of birds and you have thousands of them,” said Tommy Pedersen, a captain with Emirates Airline. “It is quite a sight.”
Among the rare birds is the Great Knot, a small wader that breeds in the Siberian tundra and winters mainly in Australia. Some populations also winter in Southern Asia, Oman and the UAE.
Khor Al Beidah is the only publicly accessible place where the birds can be seen from October to April.
“I take people out there on a regular basis to look for Great Knot,” said Mr Pedersen.
Tens of thousands of waders go to Khor Al Beidah to feed on small worms that live in the mudflats.
Another sought-after bird is the Crab Plover, a large, black-and-white wader that lives along the coastline of the Indian Ocean. The birds spend about nine months at the lagoon before retreating to offshore islands to breed.
“Khor Al Beidah is a great place to find them and the only place where I can reliably show them to people,” said Mr Pedersen. “When you have a wish list as a birdwatcher, that is very high on the list.”
The 51-year-old has been visiting the area regularly for the past 13 years and said it had so far escaped the effects of development.
“They [developer Emaar] built a villa project, which is very pretty and has not affected the area at all,” he said. “But rubble from that project has been dumped on the beach.”
However, things could change if a marina, initially planned to be part of the villa development, goes ahead, said Mr Pedersen.
“I know the plan was to dredge the area and make it into a very big marina. Dredging will take away the whole wintering grounds for the waders.”
Emaar was not available for comment.
Sharjah and Fujairah have created protected areas in Khor Kalba and Wadi Wurayah respectively, which are at present closed to the public but are to open for managed use soon. This could be an example for Umm Al Quwain, which could benefit from eco-tourism in Khor Al Beidah, said Mr Pedersen.
“The area has such a potential for birdwatching. Other countries have done it successfully, why not the UAE?”