Abu Dhabi: It’s been known that the coast of the UAE contains an abundance of coral reefs, but one of the main issues has been not knowing their location.

The undiscovered coral reefs in the UAE’s waters led to a project in order to locate and be able to map them, allowing scientists to understand and learn more about the UAE’s coral reefs. The mapping project was undertaken by the Ministry of Environment and Water, involving John A. Burt of New York University Abu Dhabi.

Speaking at a conference on coral reefs in Arabia, held at NYUAD, Professor Burt discussed the mapping project and the methods used to map the undiscovered reefs, “We don’t know where a lot of the reefs are, and we also don’t know the conditions of a lot of these reefs, with many of these reefs probably undergoing substantial changes which we don’t know much about. So the purpose of this [project] was to go out there and make a study to map reefs in the UAE, focusing more on the northern emirates, because we do have quite considerable information on Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”

“We did this by using satellite imagery in some cases, or we went out and looked at areas that were mapped by our satellite imagery that we brought identifying bottom features, and then going out doing ground trooping. We did this mainly by scuba diving and also by snorkelling. A whole lot of work was also done by using drop down video, so just trawling large parts of the seabed dragging the video.”

Large undiscovered coral reef areas were found in the seas off Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain, with 151 sites in total, and 60 of those sites having been previously unreported as containing coral reefs, according to Professor Burt. He said that in terms of the status of the coral reefs, many showed signs of degradation, while also containing several living species.

“The status of these coral reefs that we looked at in detail were arranged from the west to the east, from the border of Qatar all the way over to Ras Al Khaimah. For the most part, in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi there’s fairly low coral cover. As you get into Dubai you start seeing significant coral covers on manmade breakwaters and not just on the natural reefs. In terms of coral species richness, not surprisingly, as you go from west to east you see a rise in diversity and this really reflects the environmental conditions.”

In his concluding remarks Professor Burt stated that mapping of undiscovered coral reef areas showed that the UAE contains an abundance of coral, though with many of these suffer from a lot of degradation, mainly due to natural events rather than manmade. He recommended conservation efforts in order to protect the newly discovered coral reef areas that had not been largely degraded and contained large amounts of coral, and also recommended better support networks to help start the recovery process for damaged corals.

The coral reefs in Arabia conference gathered scientists from around the world to discuss the issue of corals in the region, and will run for three days coming to a close on Tuesday. Previous studies conducted discovered the uniqueness behind the coral reefs of Arabia, with the corals in the region able to survive and adapt to warm temperature waters that corals elsewhere around the world would die in.


Sami Zaatari is a trainee at Gulf News