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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Friends and colleagues pay tribute to 'shining' environmental scientist Edwin Grandcourt

His life and work including protecting endangered marine wildlife and coaching the Abu Dhabi Harlequins rugby club

Edwin Grandcourt. Courtesy Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi
Edwin Grandcourt. Courtesy Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi

The life of Edwin Grandcourt was one of passions; for his wife and family, for his work on the marine environment, for the sport of rugby and for his adopted home of Abu Dhabi.

Until his untimely death this month after a year-long battle with cancer, he gave unstintingly in all these areas with what friends and colleagues remember as boundless energy and enthusiasm.

As manager for Marine Assessment and Conservation at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) his work was core to establishing the principles and practise of conserving fish stocks and marine life both in the Emirate and the wider region.

The author of more than 40 research papers and scientific publications on the subject, Grandcourt was also behind the discovery only last year of the world’s largest population of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins in the waters of Abu Dhabi.

His more recent work included assessing and managing endangered species and habitats, including dugongs, turtles, seagrass and coral reefs.

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector, at EAD and his direct line manager for the last six years, called him “a shining and brilliant scientist”.

“He established many of EAD’s core monitoring and research programmes that are still running today and they are still the backbone of many decisions taken towards the protection and conservation of Abu Dhabi Emirate and the Arabian Gulf,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

Edwin Grandcourt on one of his many dives in the region. Courtesy Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi
Edwin Grandcourt on one of his many dives in the region. Courtesy Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi

A colleague and close friend at the EAD, Winston Cowie remembers that after 17 years working for the agency, his enthusiasm for the work never faded.

“He loved his job,” Mr Cowie said. “The number of times I heard him say 'We're living the dream. This is my dream job.' Well, he said it pretty much every time we were doing field work.

“He loved the sea, it was his passion. He had a naturally curious mind, was highly intelligent, and he put all his professional efforts into producing world class science that would form the basis of management decisions in respect of the sustainable use and conservation of the species he studied.”

“We have lost a wonderful friend and a giant of marine science in the region. His work will be the scientific reference for many, many years to come,” he said.

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Read more:

World’s largest population of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins found in Abu Dhabi

Eco-treasure hiding in Abu Dhabi mangroves

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Born in the garrison town of Tidworth in southern England, Grandcourt would have turned 50 next March. His father was from the Seychelles and his mother from the United Kingdom.

His childhood set up a lifelong love of travel, as well as for the environment. After leaving the army, his father studied for a degree in economics in the UK before returning home to the Seychelles.

With his younger brother, Gerard, the family lived there for three years until their parents separated, his mother then returning to England with the boys.

After remarrying, her new husband was posted to the Solomon Islands, so Edwin and Gerard were sent to boarding school in the UK to complete their secondary education.

Further parental postings meant holidays were often spent globetrotting, with visits to several African countries when older, and a chance for the brothers to explore Madagascar, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.

As children, Gerard recalls idyllic trips to the Seychelles, snorkelling from a beach while Edwin added to his collection of seashells. “He was always very meticulous and well organised,” his brother said. “Everything had to be neatly arranged and catalogued.”

Edwin Grandcourt pictured in 2013 in mangroves in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National  
Edwin Grandcourt pictured in 2013 in mangroves in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National  

With a degree in marine biology from the University of Plymouth and a masters from James Cook University, Grandcourt accepted a job with the Seychelles Fishing Authority.

Presenting a paper for the authority in South Africa in 2001, he was spotted by a delegate from the EAD and offered a post in Abu Dhabi, where he was to live for the rest of his life.

It was in the Seychelles that he met his wife Pina, with two sons later born in Abu Dhabi. Soon there were family camping trips along the coast and in the desert, as well as paddle boarding in the mangroves.

As the boys grew older, it allowed him to return to his earlier love of rugby. As a younger man he had played for the Seychelles rugby team. Now, older, he came back to the sport as a coach for Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

Lisa Irwin, the club secretary, first met Grandcourt after their sons became friends at The British School Al Khubairat. She persuaded him to help as a coach.

“He was one of the happiest people I have ever met,” she said. “When he joined as coach, it was really incredible and motivating for the children.

“When he was around, he just had this big smile and this positive energy.”

After a funeral in Abu Dhabi, his ashes will be scattered in the waters of the Seychelles tomorrow at his favourite surfing spot. At an earlier memorial held at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, Winston Cowie read a poem dedicated his friend.

“Edwin, our dear friend of the sea. And of the Seychelles, England and the UAE. When we look around us, we know where you will be.”