HomeTravelThe forest growing in the world's hottest sea

The forest growing in the world’s hottest sea

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Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi (CNN) — An intensely salty sea which warms to planet-beating temperatures at the top of summer season is a hostile place for many vegetation to outlive.

Yet in one nook of Abu Dhabi, the place briny waters lap sun-scorched shoreline, there is a forest not solely surviving, however thriving — making a pure sanctuary for wildlife and a very peaceable escape from the depth of the UAE’s desert and cities.

Jubail Mangrove Park is a inexperienced expanse of grey mangrove bushes on the northeastern fringe of Abu Dhabi’s Al Jubail island, the place shallow tidal waterways spill out into the clear blue Arabian Sea.

Opened as a vacationer attraction simply earlier than the pandemic, the park now has a good-looking wood-clad reception heart and a community of inviting boardwalks that thread via the bushes and over the water, providing close-up views of the wildlife of this beautiful spot.

It’s a tranquil world away from the shimmering skyscrapers and heat-hazed hustle of downtown Abu Dhabi, albeit only a quick drive away. Visitors can whereas away hours right here, listening to the name of birds, the watery slap of leaping fish and the lapping of waves.

“Being here is a healing process like yoga, especially at sunrise or sunset,” says Dickson Dulawen, a veteran information who leads common kayak or electrical boat excursions of the mangroves when the tides rise excessive sufficient to let small boats enterprise into the coronary heart of the forest.

“If you’ve had a very bad day, it’s a great place to relax.”

It’s not simply people who profit from the restorative powers of the mangroves. Scientists say the hardy bushes are additionally serving to restore the planet, absorbing and storing away carbon dioxide, encouraging biodiversity and staying one step forward of local weather change.

Dreamlike vacation spot

The Jubail Mangrove Park is an surprising inexperienced escape from the deserts of Abu Dhabi.

Barry Neild/CNN

The finest solution to see the mangroves working their magic is on the water, following guides like Dulawen in one in every of Jubail’s brightly coloured kayaks. Tours run via the day, and typically at night time, relying on tides.

Leading the method out through a man-made channel, Dulawen factors to the crowds of tiny black crabs that scuttle on the sandy beds round the base of the mangroves.

The vegetation have a symbiotic cope with the crustaceans, he explains. They munch on discarded leaves and conceal from predators in the branches, whereas additionally spreading seeds and breaking apart the dense salty sediment, enabling root development.

Those roots are one thing to behold. Gray mangroves ship out a star-shaped community of cable or anchor roots which then sprout their very own mini-forest of tubes generally known as pneumatophores, which poke above the water like snorkels, permitting the plant to breathe.

Pulling the kayaks up onto a pristine sandy seaside that solely emerges at low tide — an ideal desert island — Dulawen invitations nearer inspection of mangrove leaves which look like sweating salt. It’s a part of the course of that enables them to develop in seawater that will be poisonous to different vegetation.

Dulawen factors out another vegetation that kind the native ecosystem. There’s inexperienced and stubby salt marsh samphire, much like the plant usually discovered as a kitchen ingredient. He says native Bedouins have historically used it as a drugs for treating gassy camels or horses.

A yellow flower blooming on the roots of the samphire is a desert hyacinth, a parasitic plant usually harvested for medicinal makes use of together with, says Dulawen, a pure different to Viagra.

In the unrelenting warmth of an Arabian summer season afternoon, out on the water, the mangroves ought to really feel insupportable. Yet, with bathtub-warm waves splashing over the kayaks as Dulawen gently factors out a roll name of vegetation and creatures, a dreamlike high quality hangs in the air.

Crab plover birds and inexperienced herons flap right here and there amongst the bushes, touchdown to stalk throughout the smooth sediment. In the clear water, upside-down jellyfish may be seen drifting over the swaying seagrass. Dulawen says turtles are frequent guests.

Ecosystem engineers

Abu Dhabi mangroves

The grey mangrove roots sprout mini-forests of tubes which poke above water permitting the plant to breathe.

Barry Neild/CNN

The serenity of this nook of Abu Dhabi is partly right down to the reality it is off-limits to the jet skis and pleasure craft which buzz up and down different areas of shoreline. Dulawen and his fellow guides assist, assiduously scooping up any stray trash and chasing off undesirable company.

“There’s no other place in the UAE that can compare to here,” he says proudly. “The clarity of water, the natural wildlife. It’s ideal.”

And it retains getting higher. Government and personal planting applications have led to an growth of mangrove areas in current years, each at Jubail but in addition Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangrove Park. For each tree misplaced to improvement elsewhere, three extra are planted.

This is an environmental success story, says John Burt, affiliate professor of biology at New York University Abu Dhabi, who can typically be discovered paddle boarding round the emirate’s waters as a part of his staff’s analysis to map the grey mangrove’s genetic knowledge.

He describes the mangroves as “ecosystem engineers,” which not solely construct up their very own habitats however create the excellent surroundings for scores of different species.

“They’re a hotspot for diversity,” he says. Crabs are blissful due to their mangrove deal. Fish are blissful as a result of there’s loads of meals for nurturing their younger. Fishers are blissful as a result of these younger develop as much as be commercially vital harvests in deeper waters.

And birds are blissful.

“These mangroves are on a migration route for many, many species of birds flying between Africa and Eurasia,” Burt says. “In the fall season we’ll see a lot of birds stopping to rest and feed in that area because it’s important not only for providing habitat, but also a ton of energy in the food web through dropping leaves.”

There’s one thing else too. In our period of local weather change, Abu Dhabi’s super-resilient mangroves may maintain the key to predicting how environments throughout the planet will adapt to world heating and rising seas, in addition to serving to alleviate a few of the causes.

They’re vital as a “blue carbon sink,” a marine ecosystem that takes in extra carbon than it places out, says Burt.

“They’re sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis and a lot of that energy is going into the root system,” he says. “And when they die … all the CO2 it pulled out of the atmosphere will stay there.

“As lengthy as you do not disturb the space with improvement, that represents CO2 sequestration. It can have the capability to offset a few of the contributions we’re placing into the air for fossil gas consumption.”

‘So much green’

Abu Dhabi mangroves

A viewing tower offers beautiful sunset vistas over the dense forest.

Barry Neild/CNN

And, the professor says, because they thrive in the abnormally salty waters of desert coastal lagoons that in winter can actually get uncomfortably cool for a typically tropical species, Abu Dhabi’s gray mangroves could point the way to species survival elsewhere in the world.

His team is looking at specific genes in the local plants that are associated with “environmental robustness” including resistance to salt and to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

“I feel that’ll be helpful data for a spot like Indonesia or Thailand and questioning what is going on to occur to adapt for local weather change,” he says.

Mangroves in other parts of the world may have the same tough genes as Abu Dhabi’s trees just waiting to be awakened in the right environmental circumstances. And observing those genes in action in Abu Dhabi could be a good sign.

“It lets us know there’s hope for programs like this,” Burt says.

Back on terra firma with Dulawen, there’s time for a stroll around the Jubail boardwalks as the sun sinks into an orange sky. It’s another peaceful experience, enhanced by a viewing tower that offers vistas over the dense leafy canopy.

In the calm cool of the evening, a few couples and families are enjoying the scenery, among them visitor Balaji Krisna.

“If you need to go and mingle with nature it is a great place and never distant from the metropolis,” he says. “It is the solely place in Abu Dhabi the place you’ll be able to see a lot inexperienced.”

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