x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gulf coral reefs get a much needed conservation boost

A workshop in Abu Dhabi has underscored the need for a uniform approach to monitoring the health of coral reefs in the Gulf.

Like corals elsewhere in the world, reefs in the Gulf support biodiversity by providing nurseries and feeding grounds for many marine organisms, including commercially-important fish species. Courtesy Emirates Natural History Group and Dr John Burt
Like corals elsewhere in the world, reefs in the Gulf support biodiversity by providing nurseries and feeding grounds for many marine organisms, including commercially-important fish species. Courtesy Emirates Natural History Group and Dr John Burt

ABU DHABI // A workshop in Abu Dhabi has played a vital role in conserving Arabian Gulf coral reefs by getting scientists to agree to a common method for research.

The week-long event was the first step towards creating a network that monitors coral health across the region, according to its organiser Dr John Burt, assistant professor of biology at the New York University Abu Dhabi.

Representatives from the public sector as well as non-governmental organisations from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Iran attended the workshop, which finished on Thursday. Among the team of 25 were experts from the seven emirates, as well as leading international coral researchers.

After discussion on various techniques to survey and monitor coral reefs and reef fish, participants agreed on using one method, said Dr Burt.

“The goal was to get people all on the same page,” he said.

A unified method of research is vital because it enables scientists to compare results.

“The plan is now for people to go back to their countries and use the technique in monitoring reefs in their part of the region,” Dr Burt said.

This, he said, will allow for a comprehensive study of the health of the Gulf’s coral reefs. The results are expected to be published in a scientific paper within a year. The paper will compare the most recent findings with historical records to identify any trends in the welfare of the region’s coral.

Like corals elsewhere in the world, reefs in the Gulf support biodiversity by providing nurseries and feeding grounds for many marine organisms, including commercially-important fish species.

With their ability to withstand temperatures and salinity levels that are known to be at the tolerance threshold for most other species, Gulf corals are also of interest to scientists investigating the affect of climate change on coral.

Scientific interest in Gulf reefs, and especially those in the UAE, is increasing, said Dr Burt. Of all scientific papers published on the topic since the 1950s, half were produced within the past decade.

However, despite growing scientific interest and conservation efforts in some countries, the future of coral reefs in the Gulf does not look bright.

Reefs here have been going into decline in the past two decades as a result of climate change and coastal developments,” he said.

As reefs throughout the Gulf are interdependent, it is important for conservationists to consider regional trends, said Dr Burt.

Even countries doing a good job in managing their resources may experience problems if coral colonies in neighbouring countries are not being preserved, he said.

The workshop also aims to engage Gulf nationals in coral conservation, said Dr Burt, as most conservation work is carried out by foreign scientists.

vtodorova@thenational.ae