Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — This sea is so salty that it gets so hot at the height of summer that it almost threatens the survival of most plants.
However, in one corner of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, where the salty waters pamper the scorching beaches by the heat of the sun’s rays, lies a rich mangrove forest, and not only alive, which is a natural haven for wildlife, and a quiet destination to escape away from the Emirates desert and cities.
Jubail Mangrove Park, a green space of mangroves on the northeastern edge of Jubail Island in Abu Dhabi, where shallow waterways flow into the clear blue Arabian Sea.
The park opened as a tourist attraction just before the pandemic began, and now contains a wonderful wood-clad reception center, and a network of attractive wooden walkways that pass through trees and over the water, providing an up-close view of the flora and fauna of this amazing spot.
The destination offers a serene world away from the glittering skyscrapers and bustle of downtown Abu Dhabi, and is just a short drive away.
Visitors can spend many hours here listening to the sound of birds and waves crashing.
“Being here is like yoga, especially at sunrise or sunset,” says Dickson Dolawin, a veteran guide who leads regular kayak or electric boat tours through the mangrove forests.
Not only do humans benefit from the renewable powers of mangroves.
Scientists say these powerful trees also help restore the planet’s health, absorb and store carbon dioxide, encourage biodiversity and stay one step ahead of climate change.
The best way to see the magic of the mangrove forests is by sailing, guided by a guide like Dolawin aboard a colorful kayak on Jubail Island.
Boat tours are available during the day, and sometimes at night, depending on the tides.
Across the man-made aqueduct, Dolawin points to the groups of small black crabs that wander on sand beds around the base of the mangroves.
He explains that plants have a symbiotic relationship with crustaceans, as the latter feed on discarded leaves and hide from predators in the branches, while they spread seeds amid thick salty sediments, allowing roots to grow.
Marine mangroves send out a star-shaped network of roots that then sprout, their own small forest of tubes known as the aerial root, allowing the plant to obtain oxygen.
After towing a kayak to the pristine sandy beach, visible only at low tide, Dolawin invites visitors to closely examine the mangrove leaves, which appear to be sweating with salt, part of the process that allows trees to grow in seawater that may be toxic to other plants. .
Dolawin points to some other plants that make up the local ecosystem, such as the green and short marsh samphire, which resembles the plant we often soak in the kitchen, explaining that local Bedouins traditionally used it as medicine to treat invasive camels or horses.
The yellow flower that blooms on the roots of samphire is the desert hyacinth, which is a parasitic plant often harvested for medicinal uses and considered a natural alternative to Viagra.
In clear waters, upside-down jellyfish can be seen drifting on swaying seagrass, and turtles frequent the area, Dolawain adds.
The quietness in this corner of Abu Dhabi is partly due to the fact that it is off-limits to jet-skis and pleasure boats that fly up and down other areas of the coast.
Dolawin and his fellow guides help take leftover trash and hunt down unwanted guests.
“Nowhere else in the UAE can compare with this place, from the clear waters to the natural wildlife, it is a perfect destination,” says Dolawin proudly.
Government and private agricultural programs have led to the expansion of mangrove areas in recent years, whether on Jubail Island or in the Eastern Mangroves Park in Abu Dhabi.
This is an environmental success story, according to John Burt, associate professor of biology at NYUAD, who can sometimes be found paddling around the emirate’s waters as part of his team’s research to map the genetic data of marine mangroves.
He describes mangroves as “ecosystem architects”, who not only build their own habitats, but create an ideal environment for dozens of other species.