Bu Tinah Island, located off the western shores of Abu Dhabi, has made it to a shortlist of 28 natural treasures around the world that are in contention for the Official New7Wonders of Nature title.
The island would have to beat the likes of the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon, the Galapagos, Dead Sea, Iguazu Falls, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Maldives, the Sunderbans and Table Mountain if it was to win the title.
As of February 21, Bu Tinah was ranked No. 12, with more than 90 percent of the votes coming from outside the UAE.
It is estimated that around 1 billion votes will be cast worldwide before the official declaration of the Official New7Wonders of Nature on Nov 11, 2011.
The New7Wonders website (www.new7wonders.com) describes Bu Tinah Island as "an undisturbed paradise" and a "distinctive natural habitat" with shallow waters, sea-grass beds and tall mangroves set amid extensive coral reefs, hosting rare and endangered marine life, including dugongs and hawksbill turtle.
In November 2009, when Khalifa Al Murar and Haakon Rist, two students of the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), began a campaign to help Bu Tinah win votes, the island was ranked at the bottom of all entries.
By December, when they had finished some of their grassroots marketing, the island was heading the entries. Bu Tinah is now ranked No. 12, and the ranking changes on global voting, which is now available on the website.
The current ‘Official New7Wonders of Nature' campaign is in its third phase where of the 28 official finalists, the world is voting for the top 7.
This campaign officially started in 2007 with over 440 participants, from that 77 were shortlisted and then further narrowed down to 28.
"We had never heard that UAE had a ‘natural wonder' called Bu Tinah, until Prof. Melodena included it in our capstone course curriculum. When we read it, we knew that was our project," said Khalifa, who is a UAE national.
"We wanted to contribute to positive social change, and we enjoy working on the project that could put a natural treasure of the UAE on the world map."
As the UAE has 80 percent expatriate population, Khalifa and Haakon decided to use this to their advantage to raise awareness of Bu Tinah.
Norway-native Haakon Rist added: "I think it is crucial that we get the message out that it's not just about voting for Bu Tinah because it's a naturally beautiful place anyway. The fact that marine life is surviving in harsh conditions - be it high salinity or higher temperatures than their normal eco-system - that is the real ‘wonder of nature'."