Monday, August 08, 2005

Bird-filled Emirates wetlands diminishing :: WaPo

UMM AL-QUWAIN, United Arab Emirates -- The Khor al-Beidah lagoon is a pristine tidal flat teeming with wildlife, including endangered birds, sea turtles and manatee-like dugong that swim among its tangles of mangroves.

But a bevy of dredges and construction gangs are about to begin transforming a 1,500-acre parcel into a $3.3 billion luxury conglomeration of homes, shops, marinas and beach resorts aimed at foreign buyers and tourists.

The crown jewels of the development are private villas to be built on artificial islands with gated access _ and views over one of the few remaining mangrove archipelago left in the Persian Gulf.

Developers say the waterfront complex, called Umm Al-Quwain Marina, will skirt the mangroves and leave most of the 20 square miles of wetland untouched.

"Our aim is to create a community of special neighborhoods bordering an open stretch of water with views of the marina against a backdrop of the gulf," says Mohammed Ali Alabbar, chairman of Emaar, the Middle East's largest developer.

Environmentalists are aghast. They fear construction and people, cars and boats will drive off Khor al-Beidah's internationally famous wildlife, including birds that migrate from Siberia to Africa and the rare socotra cormorant that nests almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula.
. . .
The leaders of Umm Al-Quwain, however, are eager to bring big projects to their emirate, which is the least-developed of the seven states in the United Arab Emirates. It has little of the energy wealth of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the emirates, and few of the tourists of Dubai, one of the world's fastest-growing cities and tourist destinations.
. . .
The once empty Emirates coast is awash in construction that has buried coral reefs, mangrove swamps and other wildlife zones. The tidal lagoon here is one of the last such areas in the country, especially since the partial bulldozing of a mangrove swamp on the east coast.
. . .
What you're seeing in this region is on par with development in North America 100 years ago," says Robert Booth, Emaar's executive director.



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