An Ecologist’s View of Dubai

Upon being asked to speak at a Global Leadership Summit in Dubai, UAE about photography and using it to tell a visual story, I immediately got excited. Of course I would want to do that! Not only would I be speaking at the conference, but I was also to be the event photographer. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to take so many photos in a new culture and climate!

While I was preparing for the trip and coming up with an event checklist, I also created my own, personal checklist – all revolving around the plants, animals, and habitats that the desert of Dubai offered. No where on that list included fishing birds, tree biodiversity, or water scenes. Clearly, I didn’t do my research beforehand!

Upon arrival, I was shocked by the number of trees. Many were planted as part of a date tree planting program, however there were many other tree species seen as well, such as the Frangipani, Acacia, Orange Geigers, Ficus, and Flame Trees. The flowers attracted numerous pollinators and seed disperses, such as bees and birds. Dates are extremely high in vitamins and minerals and they don’t loose their nutritional value even when dried, making it a great snack for both birds and humans alike! I was thrilled to recognize some plants that had similar leaf structure as an Milkweed, but loved to see this milkweed had larger pods, thicker and more succulent flowers and leaves, and had knobby stalks – all adaptations to their dry environment.

As I would leave the hotel to wander around and explore Dubai, I whipped my head back and forth, searching out for the trills of the Myna bird and the vibrant blue flashes of the Indian Roller as it flew past. My first day of exploration led me to what is called “The Creek”. I thought, “yeah, I guess it makes sense that in a desert you would be very excited about even a small trickle of water,” then I realized that no… The Creek is a river-like body of water that connects Dubai to the Persian Gulf. It is so large that in order to get from one area of Old City Dubai to another, taking a water taxi is the most practical thing to do. When I originally thought of being in a desert, I didn’t think that I would see a heron fishing in the water, but while walking along the shores of The Creek, I found a Pond Heron!

The last evening the group was able to get out into the dunes and I was excited to be able to really explore this new biome. I have visited the desert of the American Southwest (you can read about that here), but there were many shrubs and critters roaming around in the pale sands of New Mexico. Here, the sand was deep red (as it had just rained – rains brought in from the mountains in Oman – apparently we were very lucky to see that!) and plants were scarce and low growing. Here was the desert I was picturing!

We passed many wild camels and camel farms. It was a great opportunity to learn more about this large ungulates (horse-like animals) and how they are perfectly suited for the desert climate. Their eyelashes are beautiful (I was jealous!) and keep the sand out of their eyes. Their humps (Dromedary = 1, Bactrian = 2) contain fat and energy stores, helping them get from one water and food source to another as they wander around.

Each day, I reveled in the dry heat! Days were between 100-110 and nights were 85-95, but with the dry atmosphere, you couldn’t really feel the sweat or be bothered by excess humidity. In fact, due to the fact that I was there during COVID-19 pandemic and had to wear a mask most of the time, I was worried that my glasses would be perpetually fogged up and that I wouldn’t benefit from wearing them, but that was not the case. Even the moisture in my breath didn’t stay in the air in front of me for very long! Returning to Pennsylvania was the hardest part – I came back to a chilly fall season where the afternoons were in the low 70’s and the mornings were in the low 40’s! My body did not like the sudden 50-70 degree difference.

Now, I can scroll through my desert photos, remembering the sound of the leaves rustling in the never-ending wind. I can look at the pictures that give a new meaning to the line “Sand between the toes”. I can remember the sun and the warmth and hope that one day I can return to learn and study more about the unique plants and animals!

For a full portfolio of my favorite selections from this trip to Dubai, click on the button below.

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