His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), has launched the largest coral reef rehabilitation project in the region, including more than one million colonies of coral reef through a replanting programme, with the aim of increasing the emirate’s total coral reef area.
The launch coincides with the World Oceans Day, which falls on June 8 of each year, and comes within the framework of a comprehensive plan developed by the Agency to preserve this important ecosystem and ensure its sustainability.
His Highness Sheikh Hamdan stressed the importance of this project in supporting efforts made by the Agency to preserve coral reefs, which are considered one of the most important and productive marine habitats. The reefs support biological diversity in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and provides a natural habitat for many types of fish and marine life, in addition to their role in protecting beaches from erosion, as well as supporting fisheries and many recreational and tourism activities in Abu Dhabi.
His Highness said: “Despite the harsh environmental conditions for coral reefs here in the Arabian Gulf, they are able to adapt and provide habitats for a variety of marine species in the region. They are highly resilient, which enabled them to adapt to the highest temperatures in the world in an unusual way, distinguishing it from other types of coral reefs.”
His Excellency Mohamed Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defense Affairs and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Environment Agency added: “The emirate of Abu Dhabi contains 34 different types of hard corals spread in several locations, including Ras Ghanada, Butinah, Saadiyat and Alnouf. Through this programme, nurseries for coral will be developed to reduce the negative impact of the natural pressures to which coral reefs are subjected due to climate change and high temperatures on the sea floor. As a result, the project will also increase the total coral area and rehabilitate affected areas to preserve the great heritage, economic and scientific value of the coral reefs.”
H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of EAD said: The most important challenge facing coral reefs is the increase in water temperatures, which compounds thermal stress and results in “coral bleaching”. She also mentioned that in 2017, the emirate of Abu Dhabi lost more than 73% of its reefs due to mass coral bleaching. The world has lost a large percentage of coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which has lost 50% of its living coral area. Through surveys conducted by EAD, an improvement of 10% to 18% in coral reef conditions has been monitored over the past year, in an indicator to the ability of coral reefs to recover if not exposed to climate change risks."
“Since 2005, EAD has implemented a programme to monitor and control the state of coral reefs through seasonal surveys, using data from 10 separate stations located across the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The Agency has also developed a plan for managing and preserving the emirate’s coral reefs in coordination with all partners at the emirate level to understand and research coral reef ecosystems, reduce negative impacts and restore degraded reefs. In addition, EAD is cooperating with academic institutions on coral reef research; for example, with New York University Abu Dhabi on coral reef monitoring, Nawah Company and Zayed University on laboratory propagation and replanting of coral reefs,” Her Excellency Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD said.
“Through the implementation of the programme, nurseries for corals will be developed to increase the total area of coral reefs and rehabilitate affected areas. This will be achieved by harvesting small fragments of the various coral reef species in the emirate's waters, relocating them to the nursery and nurturing their growth until they can be re-transferred back to the degraded reefs for establishment,” Her Excellency explained.
“The project aims to reduce the negative impact of climate change on coral reefs, as well as increase the coral reef total area in the emirate’s waters, help to rehabilitate areas affected by climate change and human activities, and conduct research and studies to find out the best and most adaptable coral species,” Her Excellency added.
The first three-year phase of the project includes selecting nursery sites to ensure a protected environment for growth, evaluating coral source and nursery areas according to water quality standards, depths, and temperatures, and establishing a number of underwater nurseries in which to nurture and grow coral fragments. The total production capacity is estimated to exceed 1 million coral colonies.
The programme’s second phase includes the harvesting of coral nursery stocks, their transportation to rehabilitation sites and the cultivation of affected sites to restore the integrated coral system. The third phase will include the completion of nursery stock harvesting and the restoration of degraded areas with new coral growth.
The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi confirmed that it is in the process of developing a plan to manage and preserve coral reefs, in addition to submitting proposals for announcing the expansion and addition of some marine natural reserves in which these important habitats reside.