Abu Dhabi: This community group runs kayaking cleanups in the mangrove forests

The Sustainable Community Abu Dhabi has collected over 400kg of litter from the emirate’s waters, islands and beaches

By Harriet Shephard

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Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Published: Mon 12 Feb 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 12 Feb 2024, 4:19 PM

Clean ups are a common activity in the UAE. But kayaking clean ups take litter picking to the next level.

One organisation that has embraced the activity is the Sustainable Community Abu Dhabi. The group can regularly be found kayaking around the emirate’s mangrove forests, collecting big bags of waste as they go.

Passionate about sustainability

Founder Natalia Sobko launched the group in June 2022: “I spontaneously arranged a beach clean up near where I live on Reem Island, and 17 people showed up. Now we have over 1,300 Facebook members from across the city.”

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Natalia
Natalia

The Ukrainian national was inspired to take her litter picks onto the water after she took part in a kayaking clean up run by Emirates Nature – WWF.

She has since hosted several kayaking clean ups around Reem Island and the Eastern Mangroves National Park.

After each session, the volunteers meticulously categorise and record the waste they have collected using the Clean Swell and Sahim applications. To date, they have removed more than 400kg of harmful debris from the waters and landscapes of Abu Dhabi.

Yas Island resident Silvia Cinciripini is one of the group’s many active members.

Silvia
Silvia

“There’s a lot of man-made waste in the mangrove forests,” she says.

“Last time we went to the Eastern Mangroves it took us two hours just to clear a small area. Alongside the usual plastic bottles and plastic bags, we found huge pieces of thick carpet that we presumed had been used for construction. They were very heavy and hard to pick up.”

Finding a car seat on one of the islands was another surprise.

“It looked like it had been there for years, and I have no idea how it got there,” adds Cinciripini.

“It was too big to fit in our kayaks, but the group came back another time to break it up and take it away in pieces. We’ve also found long plastic pipes, and old books. It’s so frustrating when we’re not able to collect some of the larger items.”

An inclusive activity

Cinciripini likes to do her own kayaking clean ups as well.

“Anyone can do a kayaking clean up, it doesn’t have to be an organised event. That’s the beauty of it. You can rent kayaks at both the Eastern Mangroves and Reem Park, and it’s such a rewarding and satisfying activity,” says the Italian.

“Yas Island has some stunning mangroves, and I once saw a flock of flamingos out there. They were so close to the hotels but just hidden around the other side of the trees.”

Like-minded friends

Relatively new to the city, the community helped Cinciripini make friends and settle in.

“It’s difficult to find people who share my passion for sustainability, and I’m so grateful to have found the community. It’s the biggest group of its kind in the city, and the most active. It’s amazing what Natalia has created,” she concludes.

Natalia and volunteers
Natalia and volunteers

By working with her co-administrator Katerina Karpova, Sobko arranges farm visits, art sessions, green picnics and other sustainable activities. She also encourages her members to lend a hand with mangrove planting and desert clean ups run by other organisations.

“Whenever we do a cleanup, passersby stop and join in. Spending time in nature and doing a good deed always feels good,” notes Sobko.

“I always say ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. By encouraging behavioural change and environmental action, we are protecting our mangrove forests and ensuring that one day they will be completely free from litter.”

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