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Abu Dhabi launches cutting-edge atlas to plan development better

Silvia Radan / 16 June 2010

ABU DHABI — Urban development versus saving the planet. This is a very thin line to walk and finding the balance between these two necessities is nowhere near easy.

That is why the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has come up with the Coastal Resources Atlas and Vulnerability Index (Coastal Atlas), launched in the capital on Tuesday.

“As Abu Dhabi continues to undergo strategically planned development, which will see it emerge as a world-class city on the global stage, our natural resources will face pressure,” said Majid Al Mansouri, secretary-general of EAD. “It is our role to help ensure that the right regulatory frameworks are in place to ensure a balance between development and protection.”

Using the latest terrestrial, aerial and satellite technologies, the Atlas, which took two years to put together, is an interactive online guide, constantly updated, offering data about all Abu Dhabi coastal and marine life. It is meant for policy makers, urban developers, researchers and the general public. Thus, when a new hotel is being planned somewhere on the coast of Abu Dhabi, for example, the developer will be able to check the Coastal Atlas for whether the site is suitable for sediments or whether it is a high traffic area for marine life such as dugongs or sea turtles.

“The Atlas is not compulsory for project developers. They will still need construction permit from EAD, which we will give based on our expert assessment, but it will help them to better plan their project from an environmental perspective,” pointed out Al Mansouri.

Apart from urban development and other human induced factors, the main components of the Atlas include environmental database and vulnerability.

EAD experts have identified that the Abu Dhabi coast is vulnerable to 15 different stress factors, including sea level rise, habitat loss, dredging activities and oil or chemical pollution.

The Atlas highlights the cause, effects and actions of these stresses. There is even a tool for a hypothetical oil spill scenario, allowing to calculate how the oil would spread from various locations, influenced by wind and wave patterns, as well as the impact it would make on the marine life.

Although much of the Atlas is free to access for anyone, it also has a GIS (Geographic Information Systems)-based extension, which only EAD approved clients may use.

The reason is because it contains commercial or sensitive information, such as oil rig locations. It also allows EAD’s partners such as the Abu Dhabi Municipality to upload and update information.

According to Thabit Al Abdessalaam, director of EAD’s Biodiversity Management Sector, the Atlas provides a tangible first-step to coastal and marine planning. “Is the first resource of its kind in the region and one of the most technologically advanced in the world today,” he said.

The Atlas has already won the International Environment Systems Research Institute’s Special Achievement Award for GIS in Environment Management 2010.

It may be accessed at <http://coastalatlas.ead.ae/>coastalatlas.ead.ae.


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