x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bags of incentives to build artificial coral reefs

Atlantis, The Palm is accepting donations of plastic, with which it will built an artificial reef.

DUBAI // People are being encouraged to bring bags of plastic to a luxury hotel over the weekend.

But the goal is not just recycling. It is construction of an underwater habitat.

Atlantis, The Palm hopes to recycle the unwanted plastic into structures it will submerge in an attempt to create artificial coral reefs.

The collection campaign, which runs from 8am to 9pm on Saturday, coincides with World Oceans Day.

Residents who bring two bags of plastic recycling will be given a free children's ticket to the hotel's aquarium.

"What we are really trying to do is create habitats for fish," said Steve Kaiser, the vice president of marine science and engineering at Atlantis.

Mr Kaiser's team has worked with a Dubai recycling company, Ecosol, to produce three structures, which will be placed off Jebel Ali next week. The team hopes corals will colonise the structures.

Mr Kaiser said he hoped enough recycling would be collected over the weekend in order to intensify the effort.

"I would like to get 20 or 30 of these structures out there," he said.

Submerging artificial structures has been advocated as a way to help damaged coral reef recover. Shipwrecks are one example of artificial structures that, over time, become covered with coral.

Marine scientists usually depend on concrete to create the structures, although old car tyres have also been used. Plastic is a new idea and some scientists yesterday suggested it might have negative effects.

"We know that solid plastic can endure hundreds of years without changing," said Doctor Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai.

"But we also know that plastic disintegrates in seawater, in the presence of ultraviolet light," he said. "Some types of plastic also leach out chemicals that are harmful to living organisms."

Yesterday's event to publicise the campaign also saw the Atlantis management questioned once more over the fate of a female whale shark captured in August 2008 that spent more than a year in captivity at the hotel's aquarium.

On March 18, last year, Atlantis said it had released the whale shark, although no media or independent scientists were invited to witness the event. The hotel said the animal had been fitted with a satellite tag, which fell off on April 20, somewhere around Qatar.

vtodorova@thenational.ae