The world’s hottest tropical rainforest

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Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi (CNN) — The huge salt sea that warms the earth’s temperature at the height of summer is a bad place for many plants to survive.

Yet in one corner of Abu Dhabi, where the perfumed waters wash over the sun-baked beach, there is a forest that is not only alive, but thriving – creating a natural sanctuary for wildlife. and a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the desert and cities of the UAE.

Jubail Mangrove Park is a green expanse of gray mangrove trees on the northeastern tip of Abu Dhabi’s Al Jubail Island, where shallow water channels flow into the blue Arabian Sea.

Opened as a pre-pandemic tourist attraction, the park has a beautiful tree-covered pavilion and a network of trails that wind through the trees and over the water. , offering close-up views of the flora and fauna of this wonderland. spot.

It’s a world away from the glittering skyscrapers and hectic hustle and bustle of downtown Abu Dhabi, yet only a short drive away. Visitors can spend hours here, listening to the chirping of birds, the splash of flying fish, and the lapping of waves.

“Staying here is a healing practice like yoga, especially at sunrise and sunset,” said Dickson Dulawen, a veteran kayak guide. or an electric boat to explore the mangroves when the tide is high enough to allow small boats to enter the heart of the forest.

“If you’re having a bad day, it’s a good place to rest.”

Humans aren’t the only ones who benefit from the restorative powers of mangroves. Scientists say that hardwood trees also help restore the earth, absorb and store carbon dioxide, promoting biodiversity and protecting the environment against climate change. .

Dream place

The mangroves of Abu Dhabi

The Jubail Mangrove Park is an unexpected green escape from the deserts of Abu Dhabi.

Barry Neild/CNN

The best way to see the mangroves work their magic is on the water, following guides like Dulawen in one of Jubail’s colorful kayaks. The journey takes place during the day, sometimes at night, depending on the tide.

Leading the way out along the man-made path, Dulawen points out the multitude of small black crabs basking in the sand beds around the base of the mangroves.

Plants have a close relationship with crustaceans, he explained. They eat discarded leaves and hide from predators in the branches, while spreading the seeds and breaking down the salty sediment, allowing them to grow roots.

Those roots are something to behold. Gray mangroves send out a star pattern of rope or anchor roots that then grow into their own little forest of tubes called pneumatophores, which float above the water like snorkels, which allow the plant to breathe.

Pulling kayaks along a clean sandy beach just out at low tide — a perfect desert island — Dulawen invites a closer look at the mangroves known as salt. again. It’s part of the process that allows them to grow in seawater to poison other plants.

Dulawen describes a number of other plants that make up the local ecosystem. There is green and salty samphire, as a vegetable that is often seen as a kitchen item. He said the local Bedouins used medicine to treat gas camels or horses.

The yellow flower that blooms on the roots of the samphire is a desert hyacinth, a parasitic plant that is often harvested for medicinal use, said Dulawen, a natural alternative to Viagra.

In the unrelenting heat of the Arabian summer afternoon, outside the water, the mangroves are unbearable. However, with the warm waves of the bath lapping over the kayaks and Dulawen gently pointing out the sounds of flora and fauna, a dreamy mood hung in the air.

Hummingbirds and green herons flutter here among the trees, landing to crawl on the soft soil. In clear water, fish can be seen floating above the sea surface. According to Dulawen, the visitors are turtles.

ecological engineering

The mangroves of Abu Dhabi

Black mangrove roots grow into small forests of tubes that protrude above the water to allow the plant to breathe.

Barry Neild/CNN

The fun of this part of Abu Dhabi is not limited to the jet skis and other amusements that are up and down the other parts of the beach. Dulawen and his fellow guides are helping out, picking up trash and chasing away unwanted visitors.

“There is no other place in the UAE that can compare here,” he says proudly. “The light of the water, the real animal. It’s perfect.”

And it just keeps getting better. Government and private planting programs have led to the expansion of mangrove areas in recent years, in Jubail and Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangrove Park. For every tree lost to development elsewhere, three trees are planted.

This is an environmental success story, says John Burt, professor of biology at New York University Abu Dhabi, which can sometimes be seen floating around the waters of the emirate as part of his team’s research map the genetic data of the gray mangrove.

He described mangroves as “ecosystem engineers,” not only building their own habitats but creating a favorable environment for other species.

“They’re a melting pot of diversity,” he said. Crabs are happy because of their mangrove activity. Fish are happy because they have plenty of food to feed their young. Fishermen are happy because those young will grow up to be very valuable to the industry in the deep waters.

And the birds are happy.

“These mangroves are on the migration route for many species of birds that fly between Africa and Eurasia,” Burt said. “In the fall we will see a lot of birds stopping to rest and feed in that area because it is important not only to provide a place to stay, but also a lot of energy in the food web through falling leaves.”

There is something else. In our era of climate change, the mighty mangroves of Abu Dhabi may hold the key to predicting how the world will adapt to global warming and climate change. sea, and helping to reduce some of the causes.

They are important as a “blue carbon sink,” a marine ecosystem that takes in more carbon than it emits, Burt said.

“They absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and a lot of energy goes into the root system,” he said. “And when they die … all the CO2 pulled from the atmosphere stays there.

“If you don’t disturb the area with the development, it shows the CO2 fixation. It can be able to destroy some of the contributions that we put in the atmosphere for the use of the fossil fuels.”

‘Very Green’

The mangroves of Abu Dhabi

The observation tower offers beautiful views of the sunset over the dense forest.

Barry Neild/CNN

And, the professor said, because they grow in the same salty waters of the desert coastal towns that winter can be uncomfortable for tropical species, Abu Dhabi’s gray mangroves can dictate the way species live in other parts of the world.

His team is looking at specific genes in domestic plants that are associated with “environmental stability” including resistance to salt and heat, both heat and cold.

“I think it’s useful information for looking at places like Indonesia and Thailand and thinking about what’s going to happen to climate change,” he said.

Mangroves in other parts of the world may have the same hardy genes as Abu Dhabi’s trees just waiting to be raised in the right environmental conditions. And watching those genes at work in Abu Dhabi could be a good sign.

“It shows us that there is hope for systems like this,” Burt said.

Returning to the mainland with Dulawen, there is time to stroll around the streets of Jubail as the sun sets in the orange sky. Another peaceful experience, enhanced by the observation tower that offers views over the lush green hills.

In the calm of the evening, several couples and families were enjoying the scenery, among them Balaji Krisna.

“If you want to go and mingle with nature it’s a good place and not too far from the city,” he said. “It’s the only place in Abu Dhabi where you can see so much greenery.”

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