Because it matters

Guardians of the Coast

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Yasmeen Maqbool, an all-time softie is the Features Editor of Filmfare ME, Salt ‘n’ Peppa and Femina ME. Her passion lies in telling stories about people who do what they do because it matters.

With the sole intent to express the delicate balance between nature and human progress, 10 artists have come together in a unique project called ‘Mangroves from the Water’. The message from these artists: Zahida Zeytoun Millie, Stephanie Neville, Alexis Gambis, Géraldine Chansard, Dana Al Mazrouei, Anood Al Zaidi, Hanan Al Marzougi, Noor Zadeh, Shaikha Al Suwaidi and Brioné La Throp, is for the society to protect the mangroves.

The ‘Mangroves from the Water’ project is truly the brainchild of Zahidah, when in 2007 she first found out about the mangroves. “It’s a part of the landscape we all take for granted. “We’re an outdoor family, but it took a long time to take notice of the mangroves; perhaps because the forests don’t get any press. But once you get inside the mangroves on a kayak, you find it’s a sanctuary of beauty and peace.”

As an artist, mangroves quickly became an important subject for her, combining kayaking and sketching. She exhibited 50 watercolour paintings at the RAK Museum in 2013, the profits directed to a charity in her country Syria. After moving to Umm Al Quwain, just across from her home, she was horrified by the misuse of the mangroves: The senseless chopping of branches for fodder and littering.

Mangroves at Umm Al Quwain

Mangroves at Umm Al Quwain

“This degradation paralleled the senseless killing that continues in my country, so I became very passionate about the mangroves and decided to undertake a major art project to raise awareness of the need to look after the forests that account for much of the UAE coastline.”

Trucks Driving On The Mangroves Roots

Trucks Driving On The Mangroves Roots

Alexis adds, that the intent of their exhibition operates in several tiers in that it is supposed to shed light on the world of the mangroves from various art forms and perspectives. Destroying the mangroves also means destroying the rich cultural heritage that breathes through this dynamic and expressive world.

The project members believe that through their art they can build awareness of the importance of protecting this important natural ecosystem.

Art has a power to inform any culture about ideas that matter. The project members approach the theme with a fascinating range of media- impressionist watercolours from a kayak, a short film, folklore stories, weaving and installation art.

The mangrove artists present a fascinating approach to celebrating the wonders of this unique habitat through art. The artists hope to initiate discussions occurring throughout the exhibition in a series of colloquia.

They understand that mangroves are an ecological zone, where land meets sea, and a forest reaches into the water.


They are a source of myth and legend, emanating from trees that mysteriously grow in salt water. Accounting for many hectares of the United Arab Emirates coastline, the mangroves provide great rejuvenating energy as they are nurseries and migratory resting grounds for many hidden lives: Fish, birds, turtles, colourful crabs and more. In stark contrast to the orange deserts, the mangroves play a huge role in the local natural environs.Mangroves-at-Umm-Al-Quwain

Geraldine Chansard Woman from the Mangroves

Geraldine Chansard
Woman from the Mangroves

The exhibition aims to bring the beauty from the mangroves to the wider public and to call attention to the daily destruction happening in Umm Al Quwain, with the hopes of preserving the area for future generations.

The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) is the main sponsor, with great support from H.E. Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, the Cultural Advisor of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs of the UAE.

For Zahidah, the Syrian born thematic artist, emotions have been important, as mangroves for her are a source of power, beauty, energy and simplicity. She has worked almost entirely from her kayak in the mangroves, watercolours upon different types of paper. She plays with the form, lines, colour and textures to create the effects of natural energy, playfulness, softness and depth.

With an interest in conceptual art, Stephanie, a South African living in the UAE since 1999, her works deal with issues of the feminine, diaspora and absence. Stephanie is concerned with the current destruction of the mangroves in the UAE, especially in Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. She is involved with site-specific projects and installations, documenting the destruction of the natural environment.


In a wide range of mediums – including sculpture, installation, painting and drawing, Géraldine Chansard, born in Toury, France, explores the human condition and its relationship with the world. As she explains: “My participation in the project of preserving the mangroves has reminded me how natural materials need to take a major place in my work because of our origins and of the universality of our connection to the land.”

A still from Alexis Gambis's documentary

A still from Alexis Gambis’s documentary

Stephanie Neville

Stephanie Neville

In his short documentary on mangroves, Alexis’s artistic approach reveals the mangroves as living forms, almost human in some ways as they sway in the wind. “I also constructed a world that is borderline surreal to give the mangroves a precious, dreamlike quality.”

The Kharareef Heritage Artists: Anood, Dana, Hanan, Noor, Shaikha and Brioné tell the local tale of Fatouh, the genie and guardian of the mangroves. The collaboration of the five students and their tutor Brioné has created a folk tale out of the original stories narrated to the students by their grandmothers. They regale the audiences with original tales of the ancient genie Fatouh, in the exhibition’s majlis. This next generation of artists will bridge ancient wisdom of the past with modern insights from the genie Fatouh.

When we cut down mangrove trees, not only are we destroying environments and natural habitats, but also destroying the carbon sinks that can mitigate the carbon dioxide that we are emitting, H.E. Eng.

Mariam Mohammed Saeed Hareb as the Assistant Undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water’s ‘Water Resources and Nature Conservation Affairs Department is reported to have stated.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average vehicle emits about 5,000 kilograms of carbon a year. The mangrove swamps in the UAE are estimated to offset about 600,000 kilograms of carbon per hectare.

There are about 3,000 hectares of mangrove swamp in the UAE, which amounts to offsetting the carbon from hundreds of thousands of cars driven a year. So for each hectare of mangroves preserved, 120 cars driven for an entire year are offset.

It is reported that the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Ministry of Environment and Water, are both looking to increase the amount of mangroves. The environment doesn’t work on its own, just as an ecosystem, so whenever we do a project or conserve our environment it has an effect on climate change.