Last week, we finally managed to do a full-moon kayak expedition with Noukhada, which leads all kinds of eco-friendly tours in and around Abu Dhabi.  Our first attempt to do a full-moon trip was cancelled because of a sandstorm, our second attempt fell during Eid and we were away, but third time is the charm. Last week was also the lunar eclipse but capturing the eclipse was beyond the capacity of my iphone, which I had with me in a very sophisticated waterproof carrying case: two ziploc baggies.  (Dear Santa, if you’re listening: I would love to find a water-proof camera under the Christmas tree.)

The kayak trip goes through the mangrove swamps that line the eastern edge of Abu Dhabi. As we paddled, we watched the eclipsing moon: reflecting first the pink of sunset, then becoming a series of ever-smaller crescents as the earth passed across the moon face, and then slowly waxing back to full.  The paddling was juuust this close to magic, marred only by the incessant chatter of the other group paddling with us and by the eventual whining of Caleb, who decided (about 70 minutes in) to let everyone know that he was tired. And hungry. And bored. (Note to self: next time you contemplate a two-hour kayaking expedition that occurs during the dinner hours, schedule it sans enfants).

Luckily, Caleb was not in my kayak, or I might have deposited him on a mangrove island and left him until morning.  As it was, Husband bore the brunt and I paddled ahead with a friend, losing the whining in the sound of fish leaping across the water (and occasionally landing in kayaks, then wiggling back into the water).

In the mangroves it is possible to see flamingos, turtles, sometimes even dolphins, but the habitats are slowly being eroded as Abu Dhabi sprawls ever further outward.  The much-vaunted 2030 plan created by the government says that “vital ecologies must be preserved … the best way to accomplish this is through the establishment of a National Park system adjacent the city that takes in both terrestrial and marine environments. Development would be forbidden in the National Park, and all activity carefully regulated to ensure that the mangroves, sea grass beds, and migratory birds will always be a part of Abu Dhabi’s ecological identity.”  Fabulous. Love a National Park that preserves all that natural eco stuff, right?

But. As happens the world over, this good-sounding government plan hasn’t quite leaped off the drawing board.  In the mangroves, some of the bigger channels are being dredged so powerboats can speed through–and the wake from the boats is eroding the banks of the channels. Our guide said that several of Noukhada’s initial launch points had been closed down because of development projects (all of which seem to have stalled due to the world financial crisis…perhaps a tiny silver lining in the financial gloom?).  In fact, the place where we’d launched from that night might be closed in the not-too-distant future. Seems one of the Sheikhs wants to build a new palace along the bay.

In the meantime though, we paddled along in the silvery darkness and I felt very far from…everything.  And who knows. Maybe the palace won’t be built, the condo plans will fall through, the resorts will resort to other sites.  Maybe the mangroves won’t disappear under a wash of overblown development; maybe the watery silence will remain a haven for all–fish, fowl, or human.