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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Waste is menace to UAE marine life, say experts

Birds, fish and underwater creatures are all affected by litter, said Kathleen Russell, committee coordinator for Emirates Diving Association (EDA), who told of many times where discarded plastic bags have proved deadly for endangered turtles.

ABU DHABI // Diving and environmental experts say plastic junk is littering the UAE’s waters and killing its marine life.

Birds, fish and underwater creatures are all affected by litter, said Kathleen Russell, committee coordinator for Emirates Diving Association (EDA), who told of many times where discarded plastic bags have proved deadly for endangered turtles.

“They eat the bags thinking they are jellyfish, but it can kill them,” said Ms Russell, owner of Al Mahara Diving Centre.

She has been working with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi for the last decade to bring awareness about marine litter - a problem she described as being emirate-wide. Together, they have held several underwater clean-up campaigns, the last being in November. “Taking divers down and doing clean-ups reiterates why we need to be responsible for our actions and really identify where the debris is coming from,” she said.

Aluminium cans, plastic bottles and paper plates are a familiar sight. “For a lot of people, they see the sea looks clean on the surface but the debris is actually underwater, where it has the most negative impact,” said Ms Russell.

While the clean-ups are integral to protecting marine life, they are also a useful tool to collect data about the type of debris found floating underwater or littering the seabed. “This data, such as the type and weight of rubbish, goes to a global database,” said Ms Russell.

Mohammed Helmy, operations and training manager at Al Boom Diving in Dubai and Fujairah, has completed thousands of dives in the Emirates and comes across underwater litter “almost every dive”.

“At most dive sites, there are plastic bags, Coca-Cola cans and a lot of plastic material,” he said.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors member said some people still need to be educated about just how damaging litter can be to the environment and marine life.

newsdesk@thenational.ae