Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eastern Mangrove Kayak Trip

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The mangroves fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t gotten a chance to explore them. Part of the reason for that is that they are, by nature, inaccessible. They sit tantalizingly close to shore, but in tidal zones that are either inundated or too mucky to walk in. They look like a dusty green mass, but I know there’s a lot of living going on in these mangal communities, which is the name for the mangrove habitat. Birds, fish, and insects are feeding and breeding. I wanted to get in there and see it.

Fortunately, there are watersports companies that run kayaking trips, and the six of us – Lucy and Tom, Dana and Deb, and Mark and me – booked one.

Kayak trip
You can see how close we live to the most important mangroves in Abu Dhabi. I want to see more.

The Eastern Mangroves are a protected natural area planned to become Eastern Lagoon Mangrove National Park, the UAE’s first national park, sometime in the future. Meanwhile, a large development, designed to be “compatible” with the natural habitat, is undergoing construction there which includes a 5-star hotel and spa, residential apartments, and a marina. The launch site is at the edge of the construction site, five minutes from our apartment.

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This is a great place to launch
a paddleboard, as well.

Our tour was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Friday, so the construction site was quiet – Friday morning is prayer time. After our brief safety talk and introduction to the mangroves – they provide wildlife habitat and help protect and stabilize the shore – we set out.

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Our paddle would last two hours. Mark and I took a double, as did Dana and Deb, while Lucy and Tom took singles. Deb had been tentative about the trip, because she hadn’t ever been on a kayak and didn’t know what to expect. But seeing the sit-on boats and the benign conditions, she relaxed immediately.

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The mangrove roots protrude out of the soil
and can be seen at low tide.

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Lucy and Deb were a little creeped out
by the critters skittering underfoot.

Our guide told us that we would be paddling for a while, and then we would have a chance to get out of the kayaks and explore. Although I had somehow imagined that we would go further than we did, I enjoyed being able to get out of the kayak and walk among the mangroves. We saw little blue-shelled shore crabs skittering away as we approached, and egrets landed as we paddled on.


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Goosh. Not too bad.

Next we paddled to a sand bar, where we were warned not to lose our flip flops in the sticky mud, into which we might sink up to our calves. Instead, we took them off and squished our feet into the muddy sand, which was grey under the surface. One reason why the mangroves are so important is that they stabilize heavy metals that precipitate out of sea water. If the mangroves are removed, these metals are disturbed and can contaminate surrounding habitats.

As usual, a curious kid caught my attention.
We swam in the salty, buoyant water and saw a few Greater Flamingoes off in the distance. We saw little fish swimming in the water. We found some cool shells. I talked to a little girl about Kailyn’s age and her and her parents.

All too soon it was over, and time to go home. But we weren’t too sad, because we were looking forward to the evening, and the American Women’s Network Beach Party at the fabulous Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel.

The kayaking was the perfect way to start the day,
but the beach party was the perfect ending.

Tom Dana Mark AWN FB
Who has the biggest sunglasses?

  The kayak trip has just whetted my appetite for more mangrove excursions, and I am now noticing even small mangal communities on my bicycle rides. Mangroves are so important here, because unlike most of the UAE’s vegetation it’s native, and adapted to the anoxic soil, briny water, and tidal fluctuations.

Fortunately I have my stand-up paddleboard, and there is a group here that organizes paddles. This weekend, on May 5th, there is a Full Moon Mangrove SUP social at the Eastern Mangroves. We only have one board, but Mark will be on a quick trip home to the states. Perfect, I’ll get to meet some other paddlers and hang out under the full moon while Mark is home visiting for Mother’s Day.

I’ll update this post with a few photos of that trip, inshallah.


Heather Price said...

Hi. I'll be visiting my ex-pat family living in the UAE this October for one month. Ive been trying to find some information on the mangroves. Im an avid birder and simply cannot wait to get out there and see it all. So glad to run across you're blog. Can you tell me what tour company you used and what other nature-driven excursions I should plan while there? Thank you so much. Happy travels!

Anne Schreiber Thomas said...

Hi Heather, thanks for reading and commenting. I suggest you contact Noukhada Adventure Company http://noukhada.ae/ They rent kayaks and run tours. Another must-see that I haven't gotten to yet is the falcon hospital http://www.falconhospital.com/web/default.aspx. Sir Ban Yas Island is a nature preserve http://www.desertislands.com/EN/, I havent been there yet either but it's on my to-do list. In Oman, Nizwa and the surrounding mountainous area is great for trekking, and only a few hours from Abu Dhabi. Also Ras Al Khaimah to the north, with both seashore and mountains, is very popular with those who like the outdoors. Have fun, and let me know what you discover!