By Emma Rawlings Smith.

Living on an island of only 75 km square and you are never that far from the sea. The Arabian Gulf originally provided pearling and fishing opportunities for the local tribes as well as a life-line for traders. Today the Gulf is the aesthetic backdrop to the expanding city. Isolated bays and indents in the coastline, to the south-west of Abu Dhabi Island, were great places to camp in relative isolation a couple of years ago. Today these coastal locations are under modern skyscrapers, marking the rapid development of the city.

To find sanctuary on this island is easy. All you need to do is step into a kayak or on-board a boat and travel away from the traffic, busy streets and city life, into the Arabian Gulf. Floating amongst the mangroves to the north-east of the island and you quickly forget about the daily humdrum of life downtown. It is not uncommon to see Osprey, Egret and Heron standing on the sandbars looking for their next meal as you pass by and if you are quiet enough the sharp ears of the Fennel Fox will not notice your closeness and the inquisitive mammal will appear amongst the half-submerged trees.

The lone kayak

Kayaking in different seasons, and we do have them, brings different surprises. The mangroves are sometimes covered in so many crabs that you cannot see the sand on which they stand, but if you step foot on land they quickly run for the protection of their burrows. In the cooler winter months the mangroves bleed out a red pigment into the Arabian waters. The rhythms of life are here you just have to look for them.


Abu Dhabi is located to the northern extent of the mangrove biome which dominates the coastal waters of the tropics. The mangroves are the most diverse and rich habitat in Abu Dhabi and thus are being protected. On the island of Saadiyat to the north of the main island, Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company have planted 750 000 mangrove seedlings. This is a planned nature reserve and is located across the water to the main area of mangroves which follow the north-eastern shore of the main island. Across the entire tropical region mangroves are under threat due to development. This stretch of mangroves located next to the eastern corniche in the midst of the city is more than a place to be conserved… It is my little sanctuary.