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Nancy Papathanasopoulou
qaru NATURE'S 7-11 ...24-7 leave only footprints and bubbles behind

It is usually there to welcome visitors in the scorching heat, host them on its soft sandy beaches and entertain them with the feeling of “peace in the middle of nowhere”. Its turquoise waters, warm and calm in the summer months, embrace with the sweetness of home and its evenings soothe the soul.

But this is only what Qaru island, a sand cay of 200m diameter in the southern Kuwait sea gives to humans. This precious Arabian Gulf gem provides shelter, safety and refuge to many of God’s other creatures as well. And not just in the heat of June, July and August.

In these months we come here to share the island with two endangered sea turtle species, who come to nest on these very beaches, often sticky with natural “qar” (tar). When we are noisy and shine lights all over, they are scared and don’t approach the island. When we are quiet and enjoy the islet’s beauty in the dark, we can live the emotion of watching the turtles crawl on the beach, painstakingly digging a deep hole in the soft sand, laying about 100 eggs the size of a ping-pong ball and leaving them in there to hatch for two months after covering them carefully. Along with the turtles, a multitude of reef fish and invertebrates adorn the beautiful “coral gardens” all around the island. Some of these creatures are extremely useful for modern medicine, such as the nudibranchs. Sharks, rays and bottlenose dolphins appear often, rendering this sandy spot, an underwater paradise, that ecotourists often seek in other places in the world, traveling very far.

And then there’s the other seasons, such as spring. Such as this April, when a team of researchers from Biodiversity East ( landed on the island. We were hosted by the friend of science and the sea, His Excellency Major General Mohammed Yousef Al-Sabah, Assistant Undersecretary of Border Security Affairs and Chief of Police and accompanied by Her Excellency Sheikha Intisar Salem Al-Ali Al-Sabah, chairwoman of Lulua Publishing House, and her daughter Sheikha Fatima, the most dedicated activist for the well-being of animals in Kuwait. Along with these inspiring leaders and nature lovers of Kuwait, and during a windy couple of days of constant natural history research and observation, our team saw “its usual suspects”: The turtles, the dolphins, the rays, the sharks and the corals, alongside a multitude of other marine creatures, such as Pharaoh cuttlefish performing their annual mating dances, majestic jellyfish resembling elaborate chandeliers, breaching Queenfish and Amberjacks and many more.

But for the first time, our fascination focused even more above water: For the first time in five years of monitoring biodiversity of the island, we witnessed another one of its virtues: It is a natural oasis for migratory birds. Yes, the occasional rarity has been observed here in the last few years, but never the forty-four species of birds our naturalists carefully documented with binoculars, telephoto lens and immense patience. As shrikes hunted warblers and sparrows, wagtails hopped in the inner part of the islet, terns screeched all around dive-bombing on fish, a beautiful bee-eater serenaded us time and again and a juvenile Socotra Cormorant flew in front of our bewildered eyes. It was difficult for our small team to focus on just one observation or another, as the island had literally come alive with birds like another land of Oz, with unprecedented marine life and avifauna. We carefully counted, photographed and studied around the clock; the inventory is such that it is unbelievable. Over 90 species of creatures observed, in just three days, on this tiny spot of land and coral. Many of the species have never been recorded here before.

As the Coast Guard boat took us away in the early morning of our departure date, the pod of fifteen bottlenose dolphins performed a goodbye dance just behind us, making the parting all the more emotional.

Kuwait supports natural wonders that nobody needs to seek elsewhere. The only thing that counts, in our minds, is the preservation of these little pieces of paradise. All of this amazing but fragile natural beauty can easily vanish; we must visit without disturbing. Discreetly, quietly, if possible from a distance, enjoying nature while allowing it to bloom and boom, binoculars in hand, substituting rifles and spear guns with telephoto lenses. Make sure you come and go leaving only footprints and bubbles behind.

By Nancy Papathanasopoulou

Biodiversity East

By: Nancy Papathanasopoulou

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