To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE uses coral nurseries to help them recover

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – On a boat off the coast of an island near Abu Dhabi, marine scientist Hamad Al-Jailani felt corals, picked from reef nurseries and packed in a box of seawater, and Study them carefully, make sure they haven’t lost their color.

The corals were once bleached. Now they are big, healthy and ready to be returned to their original reef in the hope that they will once again thrive.

“We try to grow them from very small pieces – now some of them have reached the size of my fist,” said Al-Jailani, who is part of Abu Dhabi’s environment agency’s coral restoration programme.

The nursery provides ideal conditions for corals to thrive: clean water with strong currents and the right amount of sunlight. Al-Jailani periodically checks the growth of the corals, removes any potentially harmful seaweed and sea grass, and even feeds fish to clean the corals until they are relocated. Don’t get healthy enough to be.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or EAD, has been rehabilitating and restoring corals since 2021, when reefs off the coast of the United Arab Emirates suffered their second bleaching event in just five years. EAD’s project is one of many initiatives – both public and private – across the country to protect reefs and the marine life that depend on them in a country that is coming under fire for its rampant development and polluting industries. There are grapples that take damage underwater. ecosystem. Some progress has been made, but experts are concerned for the reef’s future in a warming world.

Coral bleaching occurs when rising ocean temperatures and sunlight kill the algae that give corals their color, turning them white. Corals can survive bleaching events, but cannot effectively support marine life, threatening the populations that depend on them.

In this frame of video, PADI course director Amar Anwar works to net a coral in order to reattach it in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 4, 2023 (AP Photo/Malak Harb).

According to the EAD, the UAE lost up to 70% of its corals in 2017 when water temperatures reached 37 °C (99 °F), especially around Abu Dhabi. But Al-Jailani said 40-50% of corals survived a second bleaching event in 2021.

Although the bleaching events “wiped out a good portion of our corals,” he said, “it also proved that the corals we have are really resilient … These corals can really cope with these kinds of conditions.” can do.”

Bleaching events are becoming more frequent around the world as waters have warmed due to man-made climate change, which is caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas that emits heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Other coral reef systems around the world have suffered mass bleaching events, most notably Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

How to limit global warming and its effects will be discussed in detail at the United Nations Climate Conference, which will be held in Dubai later this year.

The United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s largest oil producers and has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions globally. The country has pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, meaning all carbon dioxide emissions are either reduced or somehow cancelled, but the target has been met with skepticism from analysts.

But bleaching caused by warmer weather isn’t the only threat to the coral reefs around the bay. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, high oil tanker traffic, fossil-fuel related activities, offshore installations, and exploitation of marine resources are putting marine life under extreme stress, causing them to degrade.

In this frame of video, Hamad Al-Jailani, marine scientist from Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, shows a piece of underwater restored coral off the coast of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 25, 2023 (AP Photo/Malak Harb) .

Environmentalists have long criticized the United Arab Emirates, and especially Dubai, for large-scale buildings and vast coastal developments.

The building of the Palm Jebel Ali, which began more than a decade ago and has been halted since 2008, sparked an outcry among conservationists after reportedly destroying some 8 square kilometers (5 sq mi) of reef.

“More than 90 million cubic meters (23.8 billion gallons) of sediment was dumped more or less on top of one of the remaining reefs near Dubai,” said John Heinrich Stahl, dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Khorfakkan University. in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

The project was similar to the Palm Jumeirah – a collection of small, artificial islands in the shape of palm trees off the coast of Dubai.

Nevertheless, environmental projects remain on the beach and throughout the emirate.

Development company URB has announced that it intends to grow 1 billion artificial corals and 100 million mangrove trees over a 200-square-kilometre (124 sq mi) area on an 80-kilometre (50 mi) strip of beaches in Dubai by 2040.

Still in the research and development phase, the project hopes to create the technology to 3D print a material that can host algae like corals.

Members of Dubai’s diving community are also encouraging coral conservation efforts.

Diving course director Amar Anwar is in the process of creating a certified coral restoration course, which teaches divers how to collect and regrow corals that have fallen from a diver’s fin or boat anchor.

“I don’t want people to see broken corals and leave them like that,” Anwar said. “Through the training we give people, they will be able to take these broken corals and plant them elsewhere, and then watch them grow and progress.”

In this frame of video, PADI course director Amar Anwar shakes hands with divers after replanting coral in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 4, 2023 (AP Photo/Malak Harb).

But experts say that unless the threat of extreme ocean warming due to climate change is addressed, coral bleaching events will continue to occur, causing damage to coral reefs around the world.

After countries have pledged to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) since pre-industrial times, scientists say the effects of warming on the planet could be far worse, and some could potentially can also be irreversible. But analysts say most countries – including the United Arab Emirates – are still far from that target.

“You have to make sure that the cause of coral reef erosion is no longer a threat,” said Stahl, a scientist at Khorfakkan University. “Otherwise the restoration effort may be futile.”