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Special report: Gulf coasts require long-term protection efforts, scientists say

2015-08-30 08:25:20

Human activites are compromising efforts being made to protect and conserve Gulf coastal areas. A report has dinicated that despite there being 173 marine protected areas in the Gulf, many are ineffective and offer little protection to the endangered species. Such findings have lead scientists to warn against the disappearance of coral reefs in our lifetime unless action is taken soon. The Environment Agency - Abu Dhab- (EAD) plans to increase the percentage of protected marine areas in the capital to 14 per cent by 2019, in attempts to combat depleting natural habitats and species.

A scientist collects samples from a coral reef in Abu Dhabi, which scientists say need more protection.

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Contents:

1- Report indicates long-term plans needed for Gulf marine protection

2- Scientists warn against disappearing Gulf coral reefs

3- Abu Dhabi environment agency to increase marine protected areas

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Report indicates long-term plans needed for Gulf marine protection

The UAE and other Gulf countries will benefit from a detailed assessment of how effective protected marine areas are in preserving valuable habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds.

Established before the onset of a development boom that has seen the infilling of hundreds of kilometres of coastal areas to create more land, many protected areas have been compromised by human activities nearby, said Hanneke Van Lavieren, a coastal management consultant at United Nations University.

“A lot of the marine protected areas here are small and are close to shore, not all of them but a lot of them, so they are really vulnerable to all the impacts from development and I would argue that a lot of them are lost,” said Ms Lavieren. “If there is no more viable population of the reef or anything to protect - which I can imagine close to some of these dredging activities there is not much left to protect - why not move them to some area where it makes more sense.”

The Dutch researcher spoke on the sidelines of a conference on coral reefs organised by New York University - Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

“The opportunity is to think of redesigning, replacement,” she said, adding that any such decisions should be based on detailed on-site assessments.

A broad evaluation of 173 marine protected areas in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran, carried out by Ms Lavieren and Rebecca Klaus showed many were ineffective and offered little de-facto protection to endangered species and habitats.

In 2013, when the study was carried out, only 64 of the 173 areas were officially designated as such. The majority were only being proposed for protected status.

In addition, based on questionnaires that the scientists sent to evaluate how effectively protected areas were managed, it emerged that only a small minority had any management plans in place at all.

“When you establish a marine protected area besides the legislation, which most of them have and which is a good thing...the first step that you need to do is a very clear management plant,” said Ms Van Lavieren. “It is a plan on how you are going to achieve the objectives of the marine protected area.”

On the basis of this, authorities can then establish short-term operational plans to establish clear actions that need to be taken as well as setting budgets. From data collected from 45 protected areas, only two had clear management plans, said Ms Van Lavieren.

“To be very honest, what it means to me is that...a lot of the marine protected areas here have been selected maybe in a sensible way, the initial idea was great and maybe it was based on good data, but after actually drawing the line and getting it through legislation, that is it,” she said. “It is really what we call a paper park.”

Dr John Burt, associate professor of biology and head of the Marine Biology Laboratory at NYUAD and the organiser of the conference, said he agrees with the study’s findings.