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The Gradual Decline of Coral Reefs in the UAE: Efforts for Preservation

posted on: Jan 7, 2021

The Gradual Decline of Coral Reefs in the UAE; Efforts for Preservation
Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Marek Okon.

By: MacKenzie DiLeo/Arab America Contributing Writer

The United Arab Emirates is home to the largest and most significant coastal and marine habitats, most notably coral reefs. Coral reefs are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, and they support about 25% of known marine species. In addition to their biological benefits, coral reefs also provide serious economic value. They contribute to providing social, economic and environmental benefits to millions of people through services like the provision of livelihoods and food security via fisheries, revenue from tourism, and even preventing shoreline erosion and protection from natural disasters. However, due to local and global pressures, coral reefs are facing a rapid decline.

Coral Reefs in the UAE

The Gradual Decline of Coral Reefs in the UAE; Efforts for Preservation
Scuba divers in Dubai. Photo courtesy of

Coral reefs in the UAE exemplify some of the highest thresholds for coral bleaching and mortality in the world. The coastlines of the UAE rank 38th in the world in terms of their reef size. A majority of these exceptionally large reefs are located in Abu Dhabi, which is the UAE’s largest emirate. Their coral reefs range from about 34 different coral species. Nonetheless, these same reefs are threatened by urban and industrial encroachment and climate change. Given their high thresholds, however, studies have shown the potential of UAE coral reefs to thrive at molecular, physiological, and ecological levels even in unfavorable circumstances. Because of their adaptability and high tolerance to extreme conditions, the coral reefs in the UAE (specifically in Abu Dhabi) are important to researchers and marine scientists who are focused on the sustainability of reefs across the globe.

As with many other locations across the Gulf and various other coastlines, coral reefs are crucial to the UAE for its budding marine life. The UAE also depends on them to protect against damaging waves. Not to mention the high tourist revenue the country also receives for its highly attractive coral reefs for visitors from all over to admire. Without them, the UAE would suffer a huge loss in terms of revenue and having a prosperous habitat for its rather large marine life population.

Preserving these Coral Reefs on an International Level

With coral reefs serving as an important biological and economic necessity, preservation through efficient and effective management should be a top priority. There have been international efforts in place to address the decline of the reefs, including environmental agreements/programs and international partnerships/networks. Some of these efforts have been performed by the 2000 International Coral Reef Action Network, the United Nations Environment Program, and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Center. ICRAN launched to address the world’s decline in reefs on a broad scale. The UNEP and its monitoring center also work together to take action to reverse the decline of the reefs. Despite these international efforts, however, greater effort needs to be instituted to directly improve the conservation of reefs, specifically in the UAE.

Coral Reef Preservation in the UAE

The Gradual Decline of Coral Reefs in the UAE: Efforts for Preservation
Harvesting coral in the UAE. Photo courtesy of Christopher Pike from Reuters.

The UAE is currently playing a leading role in efforts to preserve coral reefs across its region and the Arabian Gulf. Their main efforts are concentrated on harvesting coral and attempting to create artificial reefs. In April 2019, the UAE officially announced its intentions to begin a major project of creating the world’s largest artificial reef off the coast of Fujairah. Conservationists in the Florida Keys have also committed to helping the UAE with this extensive project. The nation hopes to finish the project within the decade, but an official date of when the project will be completely finalized is yet to be announced. The project itself will help to restore coral coverage to original levels by reimplementing new colonies. The plan proposes placing 300,000 mature adult colonies in the location of the artificial reef.

With Florida’s help, the UAE will also implement a new technique that makes coral grow quicker. This technique is known as micro-fragmenting, where scientists place one or two polyps onto ceramic disks. The coral then invests all of its energy into growing laterally and covering the surface of the disk in just six to eight months. This way the coral also grows outward instead of upward, which allows it to grow much faster than it otherwise would. While the time it may take to create these reefs could be lengthy, other countries who are also dependent on their coral reefs should consider such a project to preserve its well-being.

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