x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Reefs and beaches deserve protection

Good news for UAE's seascape: twice as many beaches have been awarded Blue Flag status and Gulf nations are joining together to save the coral reefs.

The UAE is blessed with an extensive coastline, one that provides plenty of places to relax and unwind.

Sadly, this natural resource has not always been treated with the care it deserves, which is why two recent developments that affect the UAE’s marine environment are so significant.

One is that, as The National reports today, 12 beaches and marinas – eight in Abu Dhabi and four in Dubai – have been added to the list of places that meet the requirements of the Blue Flag organisation, a non-profit organisation.

The addition of sites like Saadiyat public beach and the Sheraton Dubai Jumeirah Beach Resort doubles the number of facilities that meet Blue Flag standards in the UAE.

Beaches that qualify have to meet 32 requirements ranging from water quality, availability of lifeguards and rescue equipment, environmental protections and to be accessible by people with special needs. All sites are subject to regular assessments to ensure they remain up to these high standards.

What that means for beachgoers is that the investment in superior recreation facilities is being matched by first-class water quality, safety standards and environmental sustainability.

The second development is one fewer people in the UAE will notice immediately but is arguably of even greater significance: creating an environmental baseline for the coral reefs throughout the Arabian Gulf.

At a workshop on reefs hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi last week, researchers from all seven emirates met with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Iran to agree on a common method of research to assess reef health in the region.

The reefs of the Gulf are all interconnected but are also both under-researched and under threat, with 70 per cent in the UAE’s reefs having been destroyed by impacts such as dredging. Just three per cent are considered to still be in pristine condition.

That lack of research is despite the importance of the reefs here, not just to local marine biodiversity but also globally, because the Gulf’s reefs are being seen as indicators for how coral in the rest of the world will cope if sea temperatures rise as predicted.