An exotic island you cannot visit
Abu Dhabi's Zirku island houses a zoo with peacocks, gazelles, Ibex, ostrich, emus, ducks and swans.
Abu Dhabi - Over 1,000 people live and work on Zirku Island, which has undergone a sea change since the late 1960s.
Not many have heard about Zirku Island, located 140km northwest of Abu Dhabi city, because it is not open to the public. But this pear-shaped island that was an arid land, visited only by migratory birds, turtles and fishermen has undergone a sea change since the late 1960s. This is when oil production began in Abu Dhabi and Zirku, ideally located between offshore facilities, was made home to Zakum Development Company (ZADCO) employees.
The island is now managed by ZADCO, part of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company's group.
Transformation of the island - known for its volcanic rock, hilly terrain and salty nature - began in 2002, when ZADCO planned a comprehensive agricultural project, comprising date palm and mangrove trees, as well as green parks and vegetables gardens, all part of improving the island's aspect and its environmental biodiversity.
Unlike nearby Delma island, Zirku doesn't have fresh water resources, so it was never inhabited.
Talking about the oversized dates produced at the island, Abdul Hameed Al Marzouqi, housing and services supervisor on Zirku island, said the dates may look super-sized, but are grown using only "natural" methods.
"No, they are not genetically modified. Our land is fertile and good for palm trees, which helps, but the main reason they reach this size is because we prune the palm trees and apply the right farming techniques," Al Marzouqi said.
"This is the biggest one. It's called Anbar and it is about five centimetres in length," he said, pointing towards a red coloured fresh date, looking nearly twice the size of the usual date fruit.
Al Marzouqi brought a few baskets of some of the sweetest, largest and best looking dates, freshly harvested from the island's palm trees, as well as other locally grown fruit and vegetables to display during last week's Liwa Dates Festival.
Those samples, and the photographs of Zirku that surrounded them, was the closest most people can get to the island.
Flourishing flora and fauna
"It is such a beautiful island, but it is closed to the public. Only our oil company employees are allowed there," pointed out Al Marzouqi.
Over 1,000 people live and work on the island today and, in recent years, the brown pear that Zirku looked like from a bird's eye view, has started having bigger and bigger greener areas.
"We even have a zoo with peacocks, gazelles, Ibex, ostrich, emus, with ponds full of ducks and swans, all part of Zirku's environmental project," said Al Marzouqi.
Agriculture on the island began in 2003, with the plantation of 875 date palm trees. The orchards did very well and in four years time they grew to 1,565 palm trees of 17 different types of dates.
Bringing in farmers specialised in date palm trees, using proper irrigation methods and organic fertilizers produced on the island from organic waste were the main reasons behind the agricultural success.
Today there are 1,800 palm trees on Zirku, producing 21 different varieties of dates, including the most popular and sweetest ones such as khallas, lulu, fardh and sukary.
Mangos, lemons, papayas, strawberries, grapes, guava are also grown on the island.
"We also produce our own honey and other by-products from the fruit and vegetables grown here. None of it, though is for sale. We give all fruit and vegetables to our employees," pointed out Al Marzouqi.