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Coastline protected from development

Three coastal areas to be set aside as national parks as part of drive to protect wildlife and the environment in the UAE

ABU DHABI // Swathes of coastal land are to be protected from development under guidelines published yesterday in Abu Dhabi to balance land use in the emirate. The Coastal Development Guidelines, drawn up by the Urban Planning Council and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, cover the four coastal basins that extend from Al Dhabiya Island, just west of the capital, to the boundary with Dubai, where development pressures on coastal land are high.

Four zones have been designated with particular rules: ?fully protected reserves, where no construction is allowed; ?coastal conservation zones, in which limited building is allowed; ? coastal parks, where only visitor facilities are permitted; ? stewardship zones, which are set aside for development. Thabit al Abdessalaam, the agency's marine director in biodiversity management, said: "It's very important that in the development of the emirate that we should be sustainable and that there's clear demarcation of areas that need to be conserved. There needs to be a balance between environmental needs and development."

There are three areas proposed as fully protected nature reserves or national parks, where no construction will be allowed: the Bul Syayeef area, the Eastern mangroves just off Abu Dhabi island, and Ras Ghanadah near Ghantoot, which is home to some of the emirate's most extensive coral reefs. Bul Syayeef is already designated by the environmental agency as a marine protected area, with its tidal mudflats and salt marshes essential to marine birds such as the greater flamingo. These guidelines reinforce that classification.

Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of the agency, said: "The areas that have been identified for protection include those areas that contribute to Abu Dhabi's overall biodiversity including, intertidal mudflats, mangroves, seagrass meadows and coral reefs." These areas, which provide essential natural protection from shoreline erosion; filtration; and nutrient recycling, are nursing grounds for important fish species and home to migratory sea birds and endangered wildlife, he said.

The Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone, planned for Ras Ghanadah, is not inside the area given protected status, according to the planning council. Ecological hotspots have also been designated for areas too small or near to development to become fully protected areas, but still worth preserving. One such spot is just off Saadiyat Island, where there is a large coral cluster. "Coastal parks" are sea or intertidal areas that are submerged at high tide. Here, construction is limited to visitor facilities. Coastal parks and ecological hotspots are exempt from dredging or any other activities that physically alter the environment.

Areas classed as "coastal conservation zones" include Bahraini Island and Futaisi Island, to the west of the capital. Here there is some development, but further building must follow strict guidelines. Neil Mallen, planning manager for the environment at the planning council, said: "Coastal conservation zones were assigned for the underdeveloped islands around Abu Dhabi where development is allowed, but there are restrictions so that they retain their character. We don't want them to become the next Reem Island."

The final designation is "coastal stewardship zones", in which towns and developments are permitted. "The intent is that they will be self-sufficient, with jobs available within the community," Mr Mallen said. "We also expect them to, to some extent, generate their own water and power and manage their own waste disposal." These areas include South Hodariyat Island, Coastal Bahia, north-west Yas Island and Ghantoot.

lmorris@thenational.ae

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