Expedition Sharjah’s Pearl
Unlocking the natural mysteries of the ‘tear-drop’ island
"Sir Bu Nair will be showcased as a blueprint for MPA marine management in the UAE, ultimately contributing to the wider socio-economic context of the country and showcasing the human, ecological and economic benefits of conserving the marine environment. It also contributes to the sustainable development of the UAE and our national agenda."
Expedition Sharjah’s Pearl is a three-year project to unlock the natural mysteries of Sir Bu Nair island.
Our goal is to devise a plan for the ongoing protection and sustainable management of the island’s diverse ecosystem; but to do this, we need to learn more about what we are trying to protect.
Together with our Expedition partners – the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) and the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG) – we aim to gather the necessary ecological knowledge from the island to effectively protect it for future generations.
Not only that, through our unique approach we aim to inspire a new era of conservation management in the emirates, producing tangible on-the-ground impacts that can be scaled up throughout the UAE and become a model for marine protection efforts around the world.
A jewel in the UAE’s cultural history
"Sir Bu Nair has a historically and economically unique position in the UAE’s maritime history."
Once used as a sheltered staging post for fishermen and pearl divers, Sir Bu Nair island has played an important role in the UAE’s natural and cultural heritage.
Named after a sheikh of the Al Qasimi family, Sir Bu Nair’s single well provided a vital source of fresh water for seafarers and the island quickly developed into an important meeting place during pearl diving season.
Many decades later, in 2000, the island was designated a protected area by the Ruler of Sharjah himself, Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, and it is now being considered for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list .
It is known by Emirati poets as the ‘tear-drop’ island, owing to its distinctive shape, and is recognised as an important nesting ground for marine turtles and various bird species. But we still know relatively little about the island’s natural inhabitants – the flora and fauna that call it home.
Sir Bu Nair today
Pearl divers and seafarers have long since abandoned Sir Bu Nair; but its cultural significance endures. Each year the island marks the starting point for the Al Ghaffal Dhow Race. Ending in Dubai, the Al Ghaffal (meaning “the Return”) celebrates the emirates’ pearl diving legacy by tracing the route taken by the dhows as they returned from their voyages into the Arabian Gulf.
Sir Bu Nair also hosts an annual Environmental Heritage Festival that celebrates the island’s diverse natural assets and promotes the preservation of marine and coastal ecosystems.
Since 2000, Emirates Nature–WWF, the EPAA and EMEG have conducted surveys of the island’s turtles, nesting bird colonies, and coral diversity and abundance. This project will build on that work by creating a plan to preserve them, and all other life on the island and within its waters.
Endangered Hawksbill Turtles
The Island is a favourite spot for hawksbill turtles. Each year turtles return to Sir Bu Nair to lay their eggs.
Sharks in Sir Bu Nair
We know they are here, but we have yet to meet them all. Expedition Sharjah’s Pearl hopes to get to the bottom of just how many shark species roam the Island’s reef and surrounding waters.
Sooty Gull Colonies
Sooty gulls are found in abundance here; a staggering one percent of the species’ total world population resides on this small island.
Coral Reefs In Sir Bu Nair's Waters
Forty separate species of coral have been recorded in Sir Bu Nair’s waters, including various members of the magnificent genus Acropora.
Sir Bu Nair Festival
Since being designated a protected area in 2000, the island has hosted the Sir Bu Nair Festival, which celebrates its rich natural heritage and cultural significance. Often timed to coincide with the Al Ghaffal Dhow Race, the Festival brings together those with a passion for marine history, sports and wildlife to promote the preservation of coastal areas.
Meet the researchers
Marina Antonopoulou, the Expedition’s Marine Programme Leader, explains the goals of the project: “In the space of three years, we want to establish Sir Bu Nair as a blueprint for MPA management in the UAE. Our aim is to see this magnificent site, with its abundance of life, become the poster-child for the responsible guardianship of similar ecosystems throughout the country and a prime example of the human, ecological and economic benefits of conserving the marine environment”
Daniel Molina, the Expedition’s Marine Conservation Project Manager, explains how the team aim to achieve this: “We will begin by gathering ecological and historical knowledge on the coastal and marine life of Sir Bu Nair, before assisting the EPAA to identify conservation strategies that will guarantee the effective long-term management of the Island and its environment. The final step will be to provide recommendations on how best to monitor the area in the future”
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Most of the marine turtles nesting on Sir Bu Nair are Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), although one nesting Green turtle has been recorded.
Using baited remote underwater video (BRUV) technology, we will conduct a series of surveys to determine which shark species visit the island’s waters. The first study will concentrate on reef-associated species and the team hope that it will provide valuable initial insights on the ecological status of the area.
Sir Bu Nair’s coral community is unique. A total of 40 separate coral species have been recorded so far based on extensive surveys carried out in the late 1990s and early 2000s across the Arabian Gulf.
The island is an important site for nesting birds. In 2012, one percent of the world’s entire population of Sooty Gull (Larus hemprichii) nested on the island. Sir Bu Nair also hosts significant nesting populations of Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus).