x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Relocated to The World: Dubai coral reef flourishing in new home

Nakheel's successfully re-homed coral reef around The World islands is now open to diving groups.

The coral reef just off the coast of The World islands development was moved in 2008 to protect it from being damaged by developments closer to shore. Now, five years after the move, the reef is flourishing. Courtesy Nakheel
The coral reef just off the coast of The World islands development was moved in 2008 to protect it from being damaged by developments closer to shore. Now, five years after the move, the reef is flourishing. Courtesy Nakheel

DUBAI // A spectacular coral reef, thought to be the largest in Dubai, has been opened to the public, five years after it was relocated to The World islands.

Diving groups are now free to explore the reef, which was moved from the Dubai Drydocks breakwater to protect it.

It has been virtually untouched since the move to ensure that the coral had time to stabilise and thrive in its new location.

"Our intent was never to open the corals up in the first couple of years after the move," said Brendan Jack, the head of sustainability and environment at The World's developer, Nakheel.

"We wanted to make sure that everything had survived. We had to give things time to make sure they were established before the added pressure of having dive tours."

After five years, Mr Jack said, the coral had not only become established but was flourishing in its new location on The World breakwater.

"Typically, most divers will say there's relatively not as much to see on the Gulf side of the Arabian Peninsula as there is on the east coast," he said. "However, that might change. The guys who went out to have a trial dive were very impressed."

The corals were discovered by Nakheel in 2007 while conducting an environmental-impact study on the Drydocks breakwater.

A causeway had been planned near or on the breakwater, meaning the coral would have been destroyed in any development.

It was decided to move the coral but common methods of doing so can also be devastating, with sometimes only 35 per cent of the marine invertebrates surviving. Conservationists at Nakheel came up with a new way to rehome them.

"Our coral move was an engineering first," said Ali Saeed bin Thalith, the director of development and operations at Nakheel Marine Group. "We were in unknown territory when we undertook the exercise, which involved moving more than 1,100 coral-encrusted rocks, each weighing about 5 tonnes.

"These had to be removed, lifted and carried by barge without ever actually leaving the water.

"It was a real challenge, even down to finding the super-strong glue that could be used underwater for lifting the rocks and that wouldn't be toxic to the coral."

He said traditional methods involved chiselling or drilling the coral from the rocks, putting it in baskets and transporting it to a new location.

"This wasn't an option for us because each rock was encased in coral, which would have been severely damaged if it were moved in the usual way," he said.

"So we went back to square one and, after four months of painstaking research with world-leading marine consultants and engineers, we found a solution. The result: a successful move, with minimal damage, and a thriving reef."

It is believed that only about seven per cent of the coral was destroyed during the move.

John Burt, an assistant professor and head of the Marine Biology Laboratory at New York University Abu Dhabi, was tasked with monitoring the state of the coral for 18 months after the move.

"This was one of the largest coral-relocation projects ever conducted globally, with more than 20,000 coral colonies spared from the effects of infrastructure development," he said.

"The techniques used to transport the corals underwater with minimal handling were a world first and showed the creativity and ingenuity that can arise when engineers and ecologists work together for conservation purposes.

"The move also brought additional, originally unintended benefits for other fauna. The area to which the corals were relocated now has a diverse community of reef fish, including rare species not seen in the area before."

Sarah King, a Briton, was one of the first divers to visit the reef last month.

"We were met with clear, blue waters and fantastic visibility, diving down to 15 metres to see a thriving coral reef, abundant with colourful sealife," she said.


mcroucher@thenational.ae