Sir Bani Yas Island is one of the eight islands referred to as Desert Islands close to the coast of the UAE. It is located 350 km from Dubai and 250 km west of the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, namely Abu Dhabi. It is 9 km from the resort area called Jebel Dhanna. The island is approximately 9 km from east to west; from north to south the island covers 17.5 km. Its bare mountains located in the central area rise to as high as 148 m. The island was a retreat for the founder of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sir Bani Yas Island, founded in 1971, has an area of 87 square kilometers. Half of the island, an area of 4,200 hectares, is delegated as a park for the Arabian Wildlife. It is worth stating that the word "Sir" is not a title, but part of the name of the island (Dubai FAQs, 2012).

This paper will discuss the history of the island, the late Sheikh Zayed and his investment in the island, his views together with his visions for the island, the island’s habitat in terms of the species of animals present and measures taken for conservation purposes, the island’s current situation from the perspective of the tourist attraction and means of transportation, and the islands future strategy, that is how the island invests in the future terms of Abu Dhabi.

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History

Sheikh Zayed gave large allocation that oversaw planting of several millions trees and the introduction of numerous animal species to the island. The island is home to many free-moving animals, both large and small, and millions of plants and trees. It is the wildlife sanctuary and a sanctuary for birds, owing to decades of ecological investment and intensive conservation work. In recent times, there have been a range of new planned developments aimed at the Desert Islands. These include new unique lodges and activity centres with the objective of protecting these islands for the coming generations.

The reserve has become one of UAE’s most valued natural gems. Weekend tourists were allowed to visit the Islands in 2007 and participate in such activities as kayaking, archery, hiking, adventure safaris and mountain biking. The Abu Dhabi government continued Sheikh Zayed's legacy through the establishment of the Desert Islands scheduled for completion in the year 2015.

The late Sheikh Zayed was moved by the extinction of the Arabian Oryx, a type of antelope, in the wilderness in the late 1960s. He therefore began pursuing an endeavor to develop Sir Bani Yas as an environment to help safeguard it from extinction. Thus, the existence of the island can be attributed to the Arabian Oryx. The first generation trees did not grow well as the antelopes nibbled them away at their tender age, but they were replanted and irrigated by an undersea pipe conveying desalinated water.

What Sheikh Zayed envisioned for the Sir Bani Yas Island is still being implemented today. There are successful breeding programs aimed at increasing the population of animals that could have otherwise been extinct. For instance, a species of the Arabian Oryx brought to the island was saved from extinction. The late rulers resulted from his vision of “Greening of the Desert” with the aim of making the harsh deserts more eco-friendly for Arabia’s endangered wildlife and making it better for the settlement of people (History, 2014).

Habitat

The Arabian Wildlife Park was established to provide a natural habitat for wild animals to roam freely while at the same time providing an excellent experience to tourists and visitors. It is home to the Arabian Peninsula’s numerous species of indigenous wildlife. In detail, the wildlife that draws visitors and tourists to the island includes:

Arabian Mountain Gazelle

This species is found in Yemen, Arabian Peninsula, UAE, Egypt, Oman, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria and is adapted to the harsh desert conditions. It lives in small groups and can run at speed as high as 65 km/h.

Cheetah

It is the world's fastest animal and its speed can increase from zero to 112 km/h in a matter of seconds. One foot at any one time touches the ground when it is running. The species was imported to keep the number of Gazelles and other herbivores down.

Striped Hyena

This animal is native to Africa and Arabia. It is solitary, very secretive and nocturnal. It can travel long distances in a short period of time. These animals share food with the cheetahs.

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Arabian Oryx

This is the largest antelope in its species. It is characterized by the white coloration that cools it in the hot environment of the desert. It is adapted to the terrible desert conditions and can survive in bare areas with scarce water supplies. It is the most endangered animal, and it has been declared extinct in the wild. The island has 500 representatives of the species considered as the largest Oryx population worldwide.

Arabian Rock Hyrax

This is a solidly built, small indigenous desert animal that has a short tail. It has a poor capability to control body temperature and relies mostly on shelters to maintain suitable temperature and humidity levels. Because of this characteristic, one can often find several Hyraxes that huddle together in a bid to maintain constant levels of temperature.

Arabian Hare

This animal is native to the UAE. It is adapted to the harsh desert conditions and is much smaller as compared to the European Hare. The Arabian hare does not stay in burrows, but instead spends the day with ears folded back in a motionless state. It relies totally on its adaptation of color staying under a bush and even in the open fields. It does not need to drink water since it obtains it from the vegetation it eats.

Northern Ostrich

It is a large bird that cannot fly, a native of Africa and the Middle East in the past. It is the fastest land bird in the world that can run at speeds of up to 74 km/h. It either hides itself by lying flat on the ground or runs away when it feels threatened. It defends itself with fatal kicks of its legs.

Ethiopian Hedgehog

It is a solitary animal that is nocturnal, spending its days in hidden places. Ethiopian Hedgehogcomes out at dusk to look for food, mainly insects and reptiles. It is found in the deserts, the coastal plains and the mountains. It has a poor and underdeveloped spine that cannot offer enough regulation heat, therefore it hibernates during cold times, even in the deserts.

Barbary Sheep

This is a goat-antelope species found in African arid mountain areas. It grows to 80-100 cm and weighs from 40 to 140 kg. It does not have to drink as it can survive with the water that it absorbs from plant parts and the vegetation it feeds.

Other animals on the island include deers, sea turtles, giraffes and dolphins, Beisa Horned Oryx, caracals, dugongs, Indian blackbuck (or black buck) antelopes, Laristan Urial sheeps and sea snakes. The number of bird species recorded in the island in 2010 was 180. They include black-eared kite, dotterel, European Golden Plover, flamingo, grey crowned crane, grey hypocolius, imperial eagle, mourning wheatear, ostrich, Pacific Golden Plover Peacock and the Spur-winged Plover. The vegetation life in the island is majorly presented by Toothbrush Tree.

Conservation and research efforts are part of the park’s development with the aim of protecting the ecosystem and providing exciting activities and adventure for tourists and visitors. Breeding programs have been established for rehabilitation of indigenous wildlife and those species faced extinction which are then released into the wild. In addition, a 6 km non-fishing zone has also been established that surrounds the island in a bid to conserve flora and fauna and other forms of aquatic life.

Other endeavors include the relocation of animals that are non-indigenous, promotion of ongoing educational guides in order to grant the visitors extensive information sources about conservation and breeding programs, directing and assisting visitors in every activity on the island, close observation of breeding programs for endangered animals and engagement in conservation these programs by international organizations, and human interference reduction in the park. Also, the closure of paths and elimination of old pipes for irrigation that were used to construct the “Greening of the Desert” and taking extraordinary measures to conserve, care and save water at the Desert Islands to make sure that there is no wastage have been done (Research & Conservation, 2014).

Current Situation

The island provides an array of nature-based activities for tourists, all revolving around the exciting conservation and wildlife projects on the island. Visitors and tourists are assured of exploring the Arabian Wildlife Park, seeing Arabia’s indigenous species on a wildlife drive, kayaking or riding a mountain bike through the landscape. There are guides with the necessary expertise and knowledge of leisure activities and wildlife, history, geology, flora and fauna of the island to ensure responsibly during all entries into the fragile desert environment. In addition to these, Sir Bani Yas Offshore Race, horse-riding and pearl diving are some of the activities done by tourists currently.

Other activities include:

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Mountain Biking

This is done to explore the rugged terrain and landscapes of Sir Bani Yas Island through exhilarating excursion. Tour guides take visitors through the island’s intriguing scenery with a wide choice of routes that cater for all levels of interests and abilities. 

Snorkelling

A trip to Sir Bani Yas Island is not complete without the exploration of the beautiful coral reefs on a snorkelling expedition. It is guided to explore the underwater world flourishing with marine life.

Archery

Tourists shoot at targets at a distance of five to thirty metres. A beginner or a professional is provided with all the equipment and necessary training needed to make sure they get closer to the target.

Wadi Walk

As part of Nature and Wildlife Walks, Wadi Walk involves rambling through the salt dome hilltops in the middle of the Sir Bani Yas Island. The sand dunes are unspoilt and contain a variety of ancient fossils and minerals.

Monastery Tour

The remains of an early Christian monastery on the east side of the island dates back to the late 6th century AD. It was abandoned by the last monks in around 750 AD due to the arrival of Islam the previous century. The monastery is the only site related to the early Christianity in the UAE and is of great historical importance. It was built by Christians that were involved in the pearl trade in the gulf. This makes Sir Bani Yas Island an important strategic location in the ancient sea trade route through the Arabian Gulf in the south east of Arabia from Mesopotamia.

Water-Sports Centre Activities

These include dive discovery which lasts one night, scuba refresher lasting two nights and open water discovery that lasts five nights (Activities, 2014).

Sir Bani Yas Island hosts the Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas’ retreats whereby guests can enjoy 5 star level accommodation and beachfront seclusion. Tourists can enjoy the serenity of Sir Bani Yas Island in Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort situated on the eastern shore. Danat Resort Jebel Dhanna also provides exploration and tours of the Sir Bani Yas Island. The island, being the home to the only Christian monastery discovered in the UAE, can be a destination to be visited during a tour.

In addition, the Rotana Jet flies from Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi to the island five times a week that costs as low as $108 return. The jet also flies from Dubai International Airport to Sir Bani Yas three times a week at a cheaper cost of $108 return too (Sir Bani Yas Island, 2014). Other means of getting around in the highland include taxis, bus services, car rental services, tours and tour operators, flights and Yas express shuttle services (Sir Bani Yas Island, 2014).

Lastly, customer service is exceptional from the moment a visit starts up to the momemt it comes to an end. The place is also hygienic and easily accessible. The private villas have staff which is on alert if needed paying maximum attention to visitors when serving them. Top class food and amazing facilities are breathtaking and ensure that the tourists keep coming back for more.

Future Strategy

As part of the entire Desert Islands, Sir Bani Yas favors developments with uttermost care to the environment and concerns of the local population. The island is being made a sustainable destination for tourism that will provide visitors with the opportunity to explore the unique natural environments of the island and cultural experiences inspired by the locals.

The world is moving towards green energy. Sir Bani Yas under the umbrella of the Desert Islands is shifting towards alternative energy production. The Tourism Development & Investment Company, which is Abu Dhabi's leading tourism asset developer, is working in conjunction with Masdar to develop renewable and alternative sources of energy. They plan to use solar and wind energies all over the Desert Islands as part of a strategy for sustainability, which is aimed at reflecting Sheikh Zayed's visions for Sir Bani Yas.

Sir Bani Yas sustainability strategy is holistic, and it covers power, water, waste management, infrastructure and recycling to standards of energy building by driving efficiencies and reducing costs simultaneously meeting Abu Dhabi's needs for energy. Sir Bani Yas will host:

The Arabian National Park

It will result in the construction of resorts, eco-lodges and campsites settling more than half of the whole island. Revenues from tourists and visitors will therefore exponentially increase.

The Falcon Lodge Peak

It will provide a place where visitors can be taught falconry lessons in a serene setting where they have a view of the entire island. Park tours will include sustainable cycle riding, hiking tracks and vehicle or shuttle services aimed at meeting customer needs and preferences.

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In addition, the island will have an integrated and family-oriented Safari Park that will house a veterinary research and animal wellness centre. It will also house a centre for breeding scarce animals and birds in a bid to fulfil Sheikh Zayed's vision and keep with his legacy as a pioneer of environmental. Development of Desert Islands will be in phases, having a total estimated investment from both the private sector and the government of more than $3 billions. When it will be fully operational, the Desert Islands will hopefully generate an annual income of $326 millions in tourism revenues alone and create a total of about 6,500 job slots (World of Wind Energy, 2014).

Other facilities and activities planned to be provided on the island include the Al Sahel Lodge, situated in the Arabian Wildlife Park, Al Yamm Lodge located on the beach, Desert Islands Watersports Center for diving and sailing activities, the Desert Islands Conference Center and Sir Bani Yas Stables for horse riding.

In conclusion, the island clearly has put in place strategies that range from conservation to businesses and tourism as presented in the paper. All these strategies are aimed at increasing consumers’ willingness and ability to enjoy the luxury the island provides and making the island a study case for reference purposes in future tourism studies.

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