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In response to the threats faced by coral reefs in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is spearheading restoration efforts through the establishment of coral nurseries.
Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) is leading the charge by re-planting corals after nurturing them in these specialized nurseries. Additionally, Dubai has unveiled an ambitious plan to plant 1 billion corals along its coastline.
“EAD wants to grow 1 billion artificial corals over a 200-square-kilometre area (124 square miles) and 100 million mangrove trees on an 80-kilometre (50-mile) strip of beaches in Dubai by 2040”.
These initiatives aim to revive the dwindling coral populations and safeguard the delicate marine ecosystems that rely on them.
Amidst the crystal-clear waters near Abu Dhabi, marine scientist Hamad al-Jailani diligently examines corals that were carefully plucked from the reef nursery and immersed in a box of seawater.
He meticulously inspects them, ensuring they have retained their vibrant colours. These corals, once bleached and struggling, have now flourished into healthy colonies, ready to be transplanted back to their original reefs, with the hope of thriving once more.
Al-Jailani, an integral part of EAD’s coral restoration program, explains the nurturing process within the nursery. Clear waters with robust currents and optimal sunlight create the ideal conditions for corals to recuperate. He closely monitors their growth, eliminates potentially harmful seaweed and seagrass, and even allows fish to feed off the corals, cleaning them until they regain their health and resilience.
EAD initiated the coral rehabilitation and restoration efforts in 2021, prompted by the second coral bleaching event to affect the UAE’s coast in just five years. As a nation often scrutinized for its large-scale developments and polluting industries that harm underwater ecosystems, both public and private sectors in the UAE have launched various projects to protect the reefs and the diverse marine life they sustain. While progress has been made, experts remain apprehensive about the future of these reefs in a warming world.
Coral bleaching occurs when rising sea temperatures and intensified sunlight expel the algae that give corals their vibrant colours, leaving them pale and vulnerable. Although corals can survive bleaching events, their diminished capacity to support marine life poses a threat to the ecosystems that depend on them.
According to EAD, the UAE experienced a coral loss of up to 70% in 2017, especially in the vicinity of Abu Dhabi, when water temperatures soared to a scorching 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit). However, al-Jailani reveals that approximately 40-50% of the corals managed to survive the second bleaching event in 2021.
He highlights the resilience of the UAE’s corals, stating, “It did wipe out a good portion of our corals, but it also proved that the corals we have are resilient…these corals can withstand these kinds of conditions.”
The United Arab Emirates is taking a proactive approach to restoring and protecting its coral reefs through initiatives such as coral nurseries and artificial coral cultivation. Despite the challenges posed by warming waters, bleaching events, and other human activities, the UAE remains committed to the conservation and restoration of these vital marine ecosystems.
Soon, the imminent United Nations climate conference, scheduled to take place in Dubai later this year, will also address strategies to mitigate global warming and its impact.