Need to protect coral reefs stressed
ABU DHABI — Coral reefs, the "rainforests of the ocean," are the spine of Abu Dhabi's biodiversity. They are home to thousands of marine species and are believed to host between one and eight million undiscovered species of organisms.
Despite the direct impact coral reefs have on economy and lifestyle, little is being done to protect them.
An investigation report on coral reefs in the Abu Dhabi Emirate and eastern Qatar waters was recently completed, showing not only the status of corals, but also explaining why is it important to protect and conserve them. According to Razan Mubarak, Managing Director of Emirates Wildlife Society — World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), who run the investigation project, coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including 4,000 species of fish.
In the 21st century, coral reefs have become key to finding new medicines for diseases such as cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections and viruses. They also protect shorelines and highly productive wetlands from wave actions, preventing erosion, property damage and loss of life. Especially in the Gulf region, where the majority of hotel resorts are along the coast, corals present a huge tourist asset with diving and snorkelling being some of the preferred activities of holidaymakers here.
"Still, 30 per cent of the Gulf's coral reefs are now at a critically threatened stage and as much as 65 per cent may have already been lost due to natural causes such as temperature fluctuations and diseases or man-made causes such as oil spills, poorly managed urban development and excessive fishing," said Mubarak.
Abu Dhabi and eastern Qatar corals already grow in one of the most stressful environments for corals anywhere in the world, with sea temperatures varying up to 20 degrees Celsius between summer and winter time. In addition, the summers of 1996, 1998 and 2002 brought new thermal anomalies, when the sea experienced extreme temperatures. This has caused the death or near death of the majority of coral reefs.
Mubarak pointed out, as the investigation proved, that if left alone corals would be able to regenerate. But they are not left alone.
"Despite protective efforts through legislation, enforcement and education, reefs are seriously threatened by human activity," states the investigation report published by EWS-WWF.
Some of the worst human provoked threats include climate change (rise in temperature, increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater), naval activities and urban development.
Reefs in the Gulf are close to major commercial shipping lanes and small or large shipping groundings as well as anchor dragging are destroying coral structures that took hundreds of years to form.
Construction in Abu Dhabi's coastal area is creating further specific threats. Reefs around Abu Abyad island, Sir Bani Yas, Delma island, Jebel Dhana and Mubarraz have been subject to dredging and filling or damaged due to construction of petroleum installations. The unique reefs of Ras Ghanada are threatened by plans of major port development.
EWS-WWF has now drafted a conservation and management plan to protect the coral reefs, which will be fully developed and implemented by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, bringing in necessary legislations and measures to insure the preservation and health of coral reefs.
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