Saadiyat BGC: Audubon certificate stands for excellence in biodiversity
The first encounter I can remember in Saadiyat Beach was with Sebastian Vettel. It was the year 2013, the German had just won the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi and was getting into his car in front of the hotel entrance when I was just getting out of mine. He fit so well into the picture I had of Saadiyat Island: a pleasure island full of glitz and glamour, skyscrapers and luxury hotels in sight.
The second encounter I remember in Saadiyat Beach followed the same evening. I was in the final stretch of my round of golf, the sun was setting, when a gazelle slowly showed itself in the slight hills at the edge of the fairway. To be honest, a gazelle was about the last thing I expected between all the new buildings. I was to meet her and a few others more often on the golf course in the days that followed.
The golf course of Saadiyat Island, by the way, a challenge to play, is much more than just a sports field. It is a buffer in green between all the hotels, a great piece of living space. Not only the mountain gazelles, which are typical in the Arabian Peninsula, live here. But also ducks, birds, amphibians, insects. More than 180 bird species have been recorded.
In this respect, the fact that Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has once again been recognized by the internationally acclaimed
Audubon Society as a Cooperative Sanctuary.
is not surprising. It is the first club in the Middle East to receive this award, which follows a lengthy and rigorous monitoring process and is not exclusive to the golf business. Audubon certification is also coveted because it represents an outside view of the golf scene and therefore has high credibility. The first project phase lasts three years, with recertification taking place after two more years.
In recent years, Viya Golf, as the owner of the Saadiyat Beach Club, has established various sanctuaries, making the golf course a stopover especially for migratory birds. In 2020, the steeped whrimbrel was sighted here, one of the rarest bird species in the world, whose population is estimated at about 100 birds. For a long time they were thought to be extinct.
It was discovered on the golf course by Oscar Campbell and Simon Lloyd, two members of the Emirates Birds Records Committee, who could hardly believe their luck and snapped several proof photos. “We went home thinking maybe we were lucky,” they recall. “The excitement was growing visibly”. The following day, the bird was indeed confirmed by Gary Allport of Bird Life International, the leading expert on steeped whimbrels.
For Corey Finn, superintendent of the golf facility, the entire certification process itself has been a great wildlife learning experience. However, regardless of habitat enhancement, the golf facility also had to demonstrate that it was otherwise operating in a sustainable manner. About three years ago, Saadiyat Beach Club switched its water supply completely to recycled water. To make greenkeeping feasible, a switch to more salt-tolerant grass varieties was made at the same time.
So the whole certification process took some time and lots of motivation. For Corey Finn, who is now providing biodiversity support to other golf courses in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai area, the increase in the gazelle population is as much a testament to good work as the rising number of birds. “We will continue to work on this conservation project,” he notes.
Meanwhile, golfers and other hotel visitors to Saadiyat Island also have the opportunity to learn about the golf course as a habitat through nature observation tours. Hardly anyone has the luck to observe a steeped whimbrel – but all I can say is: The quiet appearance of a group of mountain gazelles makes every tour an experience.