Coral reefs in peril, experts warn

Coral reefs in dangerImage Credit: Supplied


With more than 1,000 sq km of coral reefs spread along the UAE, local experts say they would like to see more effort made to protect the reefs from coastal developments.

"There are still many high-value coral reefs out there on our coastline that are susceptible," says Dr John Burt, Associate Professor of Biology at New York University Abu Dhabi. "They are under threat from ongoing and future coastal development."

Saadiyat island
One of coral reefs in peril in located about l-2km north of the Saadiyat island shoreline is one example.

"This is one of the most diverse reefs off the coast of the UAE, so it has a lot of coral and fish species and it has fairly large reefs as well," he says. "But this area isn't protected and there is ongoing coastal development on the north end of Saadiyat."

Another area of interest to marine biologists is where the Palm Jebel Ali and Dubai Waterfront projects are located.

Developers say they have worked hard to mitigate the impact of their projects on the environment. The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which is developing projects on Saadiyat island, has implemented a 60m dune protection zone to protect the vegetation and other wildlife on the island.

TDIC has reported coral reefs in peril to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and said construction projects are further into the island, with no direct impact on the marine environment.

Saadiyat is a natural island, but parts of it have been reclaimed for various development projects.

Nakheel has translocated 12,000 living coral colonies with the help of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group before beginning construction on Palm Jebel Ali. The initiative achieved an impressive 90 per cent success rate. The developers used silt curtains to prevent sand and silt from drifting into other areas during the dredging process.

The dredged material is also closely monitored. Breakwaters are also strategically placed to support the growth of new corals.

Impact on diversity
But Dr Burt and Dr Aaron Bartholomew, Associate Professor of Biology at the American University of Sharjah, who have both researched the role of breakwaters and artificial reefs in coral recovery, say using breakwaters as a substitute for coral reefs has its limitations. While coral coverage was notably higher on breakwaters than on natural reefs, the diversity of the species was often compromised. Moreover, artificial reefs take decades to mature.

"So it's not all bad, but it's not all good, either," says Dr Bartholomew. "Ultimately, I strongly feel more effort should have been made to preserve the natural corals."




Source: Manal Ismail, Special to Property WeeklyPW



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