Sir Bani Yas
Sir Bani Yas (Arabic: صير بنى ياس) is a natural island located 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It lies 9 km (5.6 mi) offshore from Jebel Dhanna, which serves as a crossing point to other islands such as Dalma. Sir Bani Yas is 17.5 km (10.9 mi) from north to south and 9 km (5.6 mi) from east to west making it the largest natural island in the United Arab Emirates. Located just off the shore of the Western region of Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas island was originally home to Arabia's largest wildlife reserve. Spanning over 87 km2 (34 sq mi), the reserve was established in 1971 by the late ruler and founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Thanks to decades of intensive conservation work and ecological investment, it is now home to thousands of large free-roaming animals and several million trees and plants. A bird sanctuary as well as a wildlife reserve, Sir Bani Yas showcases nature through activities such as adventure safaris, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, hiking and snorkeling.
The name Sir Bani Yas Island originates from the Bani Yas tribe, who first inhabited Abu Dhabi. Sir Bani Yas Island is the crest of a salt dome created millions of years ago by natural geological forces.
The first human settlers arrived several thousand years ago, long before people set foot on what was later to become the United Arab Emirates. Thirty-six archaeological sites have been discovered throughout Sir Bani Yas, each providing a distinct insight into the island's history. One of the oldest sites is the remains of a Nestorian Christian monastery which dates back to 600 AD. Each of these sites has now been carefully covered, to protect them until the time when they can be incorporated into the destination experience.[clarification needed]
Sir Bani Yas Island was first mentioned in European literature around 1590, when the Venetian jeweller Gasparo Balbi listed "Sirbeniast" as an island around which pearls were often found. It was also described in some detail during the 1820s and 1850s by British naval officers who were surveying the lower Gulf waters. Over the past two decades Sir Bani Yas Island has been transformed by the late ruler and founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed. His visionary "Greening of the Desert" programme was designed to help make the deserts more suitable for human settlement, and provided a haven for many of Arabia's endangered wildlife. Under Sheikh Zayed's patronage, several millions trees were planted and numerous animals species introduced to the island, including gazelle, oryx, llama, rhea, giraffe, and ostrich. Once the reserve was established, Sheikh Zayed wanted to share the results with the world; hence it was opened to weekend tourists. These tours soon became so popular that visits would often have to be booked over one year in advance.
In 2007, the Government of Abu Dhabi furthered Sheikh Zayed's legacy by establishing what is today known as the Desert Islands. Innovative new plans brought together Sir Bani Yas Island, neighboring Dalma Island, and six surrounding sandy outcrops into one exotic destination. This is now being developed and is scheduled for completion in 2015.
Wildlife and nature
Sir Bani Yas Island is home to many diverse members of the animal kingdom, from Arabian oryx, gazelle and deer to giraffes, dolphins and sea turtles. Many of the more than one-hundred individual species of wild birds which can be found on the island are indigenous to the region. The island is home to around 30 species of mammals, including a variety of antelope and one the world’s largest herd of endangered Arabian oryx. The Arabian oryx, a species of antelope, was formerly extinct in the wild, but Sir Bani Yas Island is home to a herd of over 400 who roam freely on the island.
Taking up approximately half the size of Sir Bani Yas Island, the Arabian Wildlife Park is being created to provide an authentic environment for wild animals to freely roam while the island remains an exceptional experience for visitors. The Park will house several thousand animals indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula including the endangered Arabian Oryx, Sand Gazelle and Mountain Gazelle as well as free-roaming predators and scavengers such as the cheetah and hyena.
While research and conservation efforts are a major part in the Park’s current development, a number of exciting wildlife and adventure activities are already available for visitors. This includes game drives, nature trails, mountain biking and exclusive outdoor dining experiences.
Circle of Life
The creation of the Arabian Wildlife Park is an ongoing process; much of it is shared with visitors touring the area. Highlights of the continuing work include:
• Up-skilling of all island guides to provide visitors with in-depth information about breeding and conversation programmes within the Park (ongoing).
• Monitoring of breeding programmes and participation in international conservation organisations breeding programmes for endangered species.
• Re-vegetation: creation of new water holes and grass pastures (ongoing)
• Removal of human interference within the Park, including closing of roads and removal of old irrigation pipes used to set up the greening of the island many years ago (scheduled for completion in late 2009).
• Development of a 32 kilometres (20 mi) boundary fence to separate the Arabian Wildlife Park (complete). Removal of all old fences and signs left over from previous breeding on the island (90 per cent complete).
Sir Bani Yas Island is home to many animals that the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies as critically endangered or vulnerable, including Sea Turtles, Sand Gazelles, Urial sheep, Barbary sheep and Arabian Oryx. Therefore, the island plays a significant role in protecting these animals for future generations. Over the past year, more than 10,000 animals from Sir Bani Yas Island have been released into wildlife reserves such as the one in the Liwa Desert, on the Abu Dhabi mainland. This monumental programme has been carried out in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency.
As the heart of the Desert Islands, the island of Sir Bani Yas offers a wide range of nature based activities. One could explore game drives and see some of Arabia's unique and indigenous animals, kayaking through mangrove forests or along the bay near the resort; snorkelling in the protected
Located adjacent to a lagoon, on the northwest reaches of Sir Bani Yas Island, is the Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara with 64 rooms including six private lodges, the resort is also home to three restaurants, a spa, health club, kids club and business facilities.
Sir Bani Yas Island is being developed with respect to the island’s nature and delicate ecosystem. The island operates the region’s first wind turbine, which has a production capacity of 850 kilowatts. Currently it is producing energy to power the island’s facilities alongside conventional supply from the national grid. The island also plans to produce power from solar energy.
The island has a number of significant historical sites, including remnants of Late Stone Age and early Islamic structures. The island is also the location of the only pre-Islamic Christian site to be found in the UAE. The 7th-century Christian church was opened to the public in mid-December 2010. It was discovered in 1992 and has been the focus of archaeological investigation since under a team led by Dr. Joseph Elders. Dr. Elders claims the church was used by Nestorian Christians until about 750 AD. According to Syriac Patriarch Michael it is believed that the church was part of the diocese of Syriac Orthodox Church.