As the only remaining expanse of natural creekside landscape in the emirate, Ras al-Khor (meaning "head of the creek") is an important desert wetland habitat. The sanctuary (also called Ras al Khawr) covers only 2.4 square miles, and its tidal wetlands, mudflats, mangroves, reed beds, and stretches of sabkha (salt-encrusted flats common to the coastline) are the last refuge for many native plants and animals. Most important, Ras al-Khor is an important over-wintering ground more than 250 bird species, several of which can be found here in "important numbers," or more than 1% of the global population according to scientists. Overall bird numbers can reach 30,000 between December and March. The small year-round population of flamingos found here is often shown on publicity images touting Dubai's eco-credentials, but the sanctuary boundaries are under strain from surrounding development—particularly The Lagoons project, which includes a city set on natural waterways. In 2007, the
Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary was added to the list of important wetland areas that should be preserved. Three hides, or camouflaged shelters, have been erected at points around the park, and a visitor center is on the way. To visit the site now you need a permit from the Environmental Department of Dubai Municipality.