Flamingos tagged by the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi in recent years have helped to highlight the importance of wetlands to wildlife and humans too, around the world. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: When Yasmeen, a flamingo fitted with a satellite tag, migrates from Abu Dhabi to Kazakhstan, she may be contributing to efforts to purify the water and air in the countries it flies over.

Yasmeen will be highlighting the need for her habitat — the wetlands — to be protected, the same wetlands which support human beings by purifying our water and freshening our air.

The bird's journey may also help improve our awareness for the need to save wetlands from urban and industrial development and may even influence policy makers.

Another 14 flamingos like Yasmeen, which have been tagged since 2005 by Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) as part of ongoing work to track and monitor birds, had served that purpose, a senior official told Gulf News recently.

A wetland in Musaffah in Abu Dhabi is expected to be declared as a protected area thanks to the tracking programme, said Dr Salim Javed, Head of EAD's Bird Programme and Manager of Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring.

Breeding colony

"The programme helped to discover a new breeding colony of flamingos in 2009 in Musaffah channel [a wetland] and the EAD recommended to the higher authorities to declare that habitat [of flamingos] as a protected area," he said.

The wetland close to the Musaffah industrial area is vulnerable due to industrial development but flamingos have attracted the attention of the authorities, paving the way for it to become a protected area, Javed explained.

The wetlands also protect biodiversity on earth by providing shelter to a large number of living beings.

The wetland ecosystem is home to lizards, shrimps and other fish and acts as an open laboratory for people to enjoy the beauty of the nature, the official explained.

As Gulf News reported last week, Yasmeen the flamingo was tagged by EAD at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve.

Among the 15 flamingos which have been tagged since 2005, six have lost contact with the system.

"Generally the satellite tags fitted with the birds work one to two years only; most of the tags go inactive after two years. Mortality of the birds is the other issue — two of them had died," Javed explained.

He said the story of Sindbad, who was tagged in 2005 and was still being tracked, was a record in the history of bird tracking. The EAD is networking with the environment agencies in the countries where the tagged flamingos will fly over, as part of the tracking.

"For example, the authorities in Iran inform us when they find the flamingos tagged by the EAD,' he said.


"In Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, we have seen the birds ringed in Turkey and we inform Turkish authorities about them," Javed said.

The programme was expected to increase awareness about the importance of wetlands, he said.

Diet: Brine shrimp preferred

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus): It is a common visitor to the UAE and can be seen all year round in lagoons, in the fresh and salt waters of artificial wetlands, and even close to human services such as highways, suburbs, industrial areas, salt pans, and sewage ponds.

It is a flagship species for conservation in the UAE. They have successfully bred at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Shahama and Bul Syayeef, all in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The flamingo lays a single egg and its preferred food is the brine shrimp.

It is a species with a broad distribution range from the western Mediterranean Basin to Sri Lanka in the north, to South Africa in the south.

Key sites: The species in the UAE

Bu Tinah Island

The island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, is also home to hundreds of flamingos. The Island has been shortlisted in an international competition along with such well-known natural icons such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. Home to the world's healthiest population of dugongs - dolphin-like ‘sea cows' that graze on sea grass - as well as unique coral reefs found nowhere else on planet Earth, Bu Tinah is the only finalist from the Arabian Gulf region and a source of pride throughout the Gulf.

Help keep Bu Tinah protected in three different ways:

- Text ‘Butinah' to 3888 via SMS. You and your friends can text as many times as they like. In fact, the more you text, the more likely will Bu Tinah's inhabitants stay protected and flourish in peace.

- Visit one of the voting booths located at Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall or Dubai's Mall of the Emirates until January 15, 2011.

- Log onto www.butinah.com to vote.

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

It was declared a protected area in 1998 by the late UAE President Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

This 5 km² area is home to nearly 232 species of birds that depend on the wetland either for resting, feeding or breeding.

It provides a refuge for species of reptiles, mammals and insects and is important for biodiversity conservation in Abu Dhabi.

Al Wathba was the site for the first satellite tagging of greater flamingos in the Arabian Peninsula in 2005.

Source: EAD

The tagging process

Flamingos would be captured by setting a series of noose lines attached to wooden stakes in shallow water areas visited by flamingos to feed. Capture often involves waiting for long hours for birds to come near the noose and get caught, however as the number of flamingos at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve is high, the EAD team expects to catch the birds relatively quickly.

Once the birds are caught, the EAD team takes the necessary measurements; and gives the birds a general health check up by looking for any sign of injury before putting on a satellite transmitter. The 45g Argos/GPS Solar satellite transmitter is attached to the bird's back using strong Teflon ribbon employing a backpack design. The solar panel will allow the transmitter to remain charged making the best use of abundant sunlight in the region.

Birds would also be fitted with DARVIC rings as part of the Greater Flamingo banding scheme for West Asia and the Mediterranean region. This scheme has been in operation since 1977 and is coordinated by Tour du Valat in France.