Abu Dhabi: As part of a comprehensive new plan for Abu Dhabi’s coastal and marine areas, the names of 215 islands off the emirate’s coast will finally be standardised and officially recognised, senior urban planning officials announced in the capital on Monday.

The islands, many of which are located just 20 kilometres off the coast, currently bear many different names, Ebrahim Al Hammoudi, project manager for the initiative, Plan Maritime 2030, at the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC), told Gulf News.

“There are traditional names used by elderly family members, and different government entities refer to the same land mass in different ways. One of our main aims is therefore to standardise these names,” Al Hammoudi said.

UPC officials have already agreed on standard names for 148 of the islands, and these are now pending government approval.

Al Hammoudi was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day meeting that saw delegates from a number of government bodies discuss the existing state and use of Abu Dhabi marine resources.

The emirate boasts a 764-kilometre mainland coastline, while its islands add another 1,671 kilometres of seashore.

The ongoing meeting is expected to add to the development of the maritime plan, which focuses on the use and development of this coastline, its surrounding waters, and their uses.

Another main objective of the scheme, which should be drawn up by the first quarter of 2015, is to create policies that balance economic development and tourism with environmental sustainability.

“Much of Abu Dhabi’s shoreline comprises low wetlands with soft grounds, known as ‘sabkha’. Solidifying these areas for construction purposes requires massive investments. The strategy will therefore prioritise areas with firmer ground for development purposes, and we will direct private investment into these locations,” Al Hammoudi explained.

It will also prevent the reclamation of land lying alongside strong currents because erosion has been noted in certain islands that face these conditions, he added.

According to statistics revealed at the meeting, nearly one-third of the emirate’s land mass comprises marine lands spanning 38,000 square kilometres. Activities within these areas and in the nearby waters, such as oil and gas extraction and fishing, currently contribute 68 per cent of the emirate’s gross domestic product.

“These marine area activities employ 626,000 people, representing 63 per cent of the emirate’s population. By 2030, officials estimate that maritime businesses will employ about one million people in Abu Dhabi. But such contributions cannot be assured without a plan to guide the use of these precious marine resources,” said Charles Ehler, marine spatial planning consultant at the United Nations’ ocean research body, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

Al Hammoudi said that the majority of future development in coastal areas will be geared towards ecotourism, and towards creating housing for Emirati families in Western Region areas like Mirfa, Sila and Ruwais.

Special emphasis will also be placed on conservation of natural resources, such as the notable dugong population in Abu Dhabi waters and the mangrove wetlands that serve as a habitat for many bird and plant species.