x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Ali Column: High time we protect the reefs in our region

A few organisations have taken on the challenge of preserving the coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf, but we all need to know what lies under the sea.

The other day, I saw a Turkish woman wearing a beautiful red necklace with tiny beads. I approached her and asked where she had bought it. She told me that she had seen it at an ethnic, chic boutique in Abu Dhabi. I was amazed and wondered what the material was. It was coral. This was something I had not seen before.

Then, it occurred to me that we have coral reefs in our Arabian Gulf coast and I decided to visit them to find out more.

Suaad Al Harthi, a marine biologist for the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) and an expert on the coastal ecosystem of the region, accompanied me on this mission. The first place we went to was the Saadiyat Island coast. According to Al Harthi, coral reefs represent "biological hot spots" by attracting certain organisms, such as fish stocks and sea turtles. The reefs provide them with a home that is like heaven to them.

The undersea life is an amazing place to discover underwater creatures and our corals belong to the rarest and most endangered species. Despite being very sensitive, the coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf region can adapt to, and deal with, the high temperatures and salinity in our waters more effectively than in other places in the world. They depend on the island and coasts for their survival.

This is why preserving them remains a major challenge. One step towards this goal has been taken with the declaration of protected areas in our country, where human activity is not allowed, such as Bu Tinah island. To ensure these areas remain protected, we have research experts like Al Harthi who regularly check the health condition of the corals to see if they have developed any disease or started bleaching.

Anyone can learn how to dive but not everyone can do these research assessments. It takes intensive training to learn how to accurately identify undersea life creatures and gauge their health.

Another initiative, by New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, involves conductinghealth assessments on the coral reefs in our region. These programmes demonstrate how important it is to recognise the significance of corals and be active in the preservation efforts. The reefs act as a natural breakwater to protect us from high waves, floods and tsunamis.

Obviously, if we do not care about their protection and continue to dredge the area where our beautiful corals live, they not going to survive. Parts of the sand segments will bury them, which will prevent them from being able to perform photosynthesis and that will cause them to suffocate.We would lose a part of our natural heritage that includes the biodiversity that we all live in and need to survive.

Watch Suaad and I document our journey at AskAliTV on YouTube or search The Environment Show with Ask Ali - Coral.