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Protecting nature requires vigilance

Protecting the natural environment around big cities requires sound regulations but also alert, persistent enforcement.

Unspoilt natural beauty holds a primeval allure for humankind - and especially, it seems, for property developers.

There is profit to be made by ripping into, paving over and building up anyplace where others will buy housing - with all modern conveniences, of course - overlooking places of scenic natural tranquillity. And if some of that natural beauty is sacrificed in the process, well, you can't derail "progress".

But you can, and sometimes should, slow it. As The National reported this week, the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) did just that recently, halting unauthorised dredging that would have uprooted 60,000 square metres of mangrove swamps along the north channel of Reem Island in the capital.

The incident is not, to be sure, enormous in itself: 60,000 square metres is just 6 per cent of one square kilometre. But EAD inspectors say that when they investigated a report of the dredging, they discovered "numerous other violations" connected to the project. And there is reason to believe that such energetic development, with or without the required approvals, is all too common.

The construction of new islands, dredging work, new hotels and residential complexes near the shoreline and other projects amount to a relentless assault on the mangroves, to speak only of this one species and the wildlife it shelters. More than half of Reem Island's mangrove areas, for example, have been lost since development there began in 2005.

Development is, to be sure, an essential and welcome part of modern life; most of us live and work in buildings that were not here 25 or 30 years ago. But the interface between development and ecological protection is a tightrope: it is alarmingly easy to fall from sustainability down to environmental degradation.

To strike a sound balance, officials develop and adopt detailed regulations. But this process is drained of all meaning when less effort goes into constant enforcement. In this one project alone, for example, it is distressing that the rules against mangrove dredging were circumvented or ignored "numerous" times.

Nature, in its beauty and its innate appeal, is its own worst enemy. To protect natural environments from too-eager human intervention, good intentions and prudent planning must be accompanied by persistent and resolute enforcement.

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