Litterbugs ruin happy camping
There is surely no better antidote to the stress of the Abu Dhabi grind than throwing your camping gear into the boot of the car, stocking up on basic provisions and heading off for a couple of days.
But the beauty of dunes that have been enjoyed by local nature lovers for so long is being tarnished by the growing menace of litter louts.
A sea of plastic bags, bottles, cans, cigarette butts and other unsightly waste has ruined once breathtaking terrain.
“I get really sad and really angry when I see the natural habitat and beautiful landscapes being disfigured by the very people who go out to enjoy these places,” says French expat Marie Pretot, who lives in Abu Dhabi and camps regularly in the Liwa area.
“It’s outrageous that people spend time in the desert and the wadis then just dump their plastic bags on the sand or permanently mark the mountain rocks with graffiti - literally transforming the environment. More
eco-awareness should be taught in school so that young children grow up with good habits and this mess gets wiped out.”
The issue of desert littering has been a hot potato for some time and has led to some robust clean-up campaigns, although those involved admit they face an uphill battle because of the scale of the problem.
David Wernery and his wife Theresa are spearheading one such campaign called PlasticNotSoFantastic (www.pnsfexpedition.com). The aim is to clean up the country’s deserts and beaches. David says they have discovered pollution and littering in some surprising places in the UAE.
“We have found that levels of pollution and damage in the UNESCO protected Merawah Biosphere Reserve - of which Abu Dhabi’s famous Bu Tinah Island is a part - have been increasing over the years. This just shouldn’t be happening and a conscious effort needs be made to protect reserves in particular,” he says.
“Other problem areas are, of course, the popular wadis or desert camping hotspots such as Moreeb Dune in the Liwa desert.” Apart from being an eyesore, desert littering can prove deadly to wildlife, including camels, sheep, goats and cattle, as well as the protected Arabian oryx and sand gazelles. Dangerous items such as ring pulls from drink cans and plastic wrapping are ingested by them while foraging and can have fatal consequences.
The government threw its weight behind efforts to combat the problem with a country-wide desert clean-up campaign last February. However, it is residents who can make the biggest difference by simply cleaning up their act.
If they want inspiration, they should look no further than a 15-year-old boy who has made headlines by taking on the litterbugs. Cameron Oliver, a South African expat, was so appalled by images of dead camels that had choked on rubbish left by humans that he began a campaign called ‘Cameron’s Camels’ - and even started his own website.
“Every year hundreds of animals face agonising deaths by plastic ingestion,” he says. “My campaign will not stop until camels stop dying because of us! I want my children to see live camels, not read about them in books.”
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR DESERT WASTE WHEN CAMPING
>> Try and buy products that use less wrapping material and buy large water bottles, or gallon bottles, instead of small ones.
>> Take pre-prepared meals in Tupperware boxes. That way wrapping material is taken home.
>> Pack your supplies in the cool box, which not only helps you organise yourself, but reduces the number of plastic bags you are taking to the camp.
>> DO NOT LITTER. Take everything back with you, including ring pulls and cigarette butts.
>> Crush your cans and water bottles to save on space in your rubbish bag.