If you have lived in Qatar for long enough, you may know that the dunes you see at Sealine and in the desert weren’t always so picturesque and perfect. They appear to be cut out of children’s books or travel agencies’ catalogs and pasted into Qatar’s desert. So who keeps the dunes clean and perfectly sloped all year around?
Just like snow pistes that are ski runs in the mountains, sand needs to be maintained to allow for the perfect small and giant dunes to exist. Powdery sand is transported up the dune using tracked vehicles known as sandcats, that also compact or ‘groom’ the sand to even out the trails for sandsports, remove moguls (dents and irregularities) and redistribute the sand. The Qatari peninsula of 160 kilometers is vastly covered in sand and large desert areas such as Khor al Adaid. 5.6% of Qatar’s land is currently agricultural, while 76.4% is desert land with crafted dunes. Prof. Dr. Muthhik, head of ‘Dune Cats for Qatar’ emphasized the need for dune maintenance through tourism as another source of revenue for the State of Qatar. “Tourists from all around the world are attracted to inter-dune camping experiences, that contribute to great holiday photos and first sand sights of dunes they would never be able to see.”
Another factor highlighting the need to sand dune cleaning and sloping is various motor sports taking place in the desert, that make use of the dunes but also carry away large amounts of sand.
This is then corrected on several occasions during the month in the early morning hours, when hundreds of sandcats make their way into the desert to reshape the dunes. Every grain of sand is individually polished by the sandcats. Cleaning is a pivotal aspect of maintenance as visitors might leave their waste behind, making the dunes look dirty and uninviting. Muthhik stated that a total of 34.8 tonnes of waste was collected during the month of March 2016. Though with sinking oil prices and the need for sustainability, Qatar is seeking alternatives to maintaining the sand dunes.
Since 1992, a group of the Ministry of Environment called ‘Dune Cats for Qatar’ had organized the dune cleanings with collaboration of Qatar Tourism Authority, and imported the large machinery into the country. Qatar is now, as part of the National Vision 2030, appealing to local companies to organize dune landscapings to support the picture-perfect dunes. Wanted is anyone who can drive big machinery, loves landscaping, owns shovel and rake or can carry a lot of sand. Expats and locals should unite to keep our dunes big and majestic.
New technology and methodology is developed each day, to make dune maintenance as efficient and green as possible. For example grooming and evening out of sand trails can be done using children that roll down the dunes sideways, combining cleaning with fun. To stand out in the region, Muthhik gave us insights into new models for sand dunes that should include gold dust for the tips of dunes to be finalized in 2018, and National Day themed dunes to shine in maroon and white during the next year. The Ministry of Environment also invites students, artists, architects and bakers to submit their own designs that should be frosting or icing based.
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