Abu Dhabi: President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his capacity as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has issued an Emiri Decree declaring a group of islands off the Western Region as a Marine Protected Area.

The group of islands consist of Upper Al Yasat, Lower Al Yasat, Esam and Karsha, covering a total area of 482sq km declared a no-take zone a Marine Protected Area (MPA) where catching or removal of organisms are prohibited.

The decree also stated that the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) would be the managing authority for the MPA, with the responsibility of overseeing and implementing laws and regulations within the Marine Protected Area.

The Al Yasat MPA is expected to provide effective protection for the area's fish stocks at various stages in their life cycles, when they are dependent on specific habitat types or locations.

In the absence of fishing pressure inside the protected area, fish will be able to grow to maturity and increase in abundance.

The Al Yasat group of islands and the surrounding waters included in the new MPA are of considerable ecological importance.

The islands are surrounded by coral reefs, which act as important marine sanctuaries to many species, including the already over-exploited Hamour, Sherri and Farsh. The reefs have good coral growth and high coral cover with around eight coral species present.

The islands have irregular coastlines with both rocky and sandy shorelines, providing a variety of habitats. The MPA has suitable foraging habitats for the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles.

It also has significant populations of marine fauna including the endangered Green turtle and the Dugong. Desert hares are present on the islands, where they make use of the natural landscape and vegetation for shelter, food and breeding.

Upper Yasat has an important breeding colony of Socotra cormorants, a near-endemic bird species for the UAE, which is one of less than 15 existing colonies in the world.

According to surveys undertaken in this area, the Yasat islands were once the site of human settlement in the late pre-Islamic period (1st 6th Century AD).

The remains of shelters and other sites, which demonstrate evidence of occupation during the Late Islamic period, have also been found, including shell middens, demonstrating the way in which local inhabitants exploited the food resources present in nearby waters.

Several of these sites are considered to be of national or regional importance.

As part of preparations for the designation of the Al Yasat Islands as a Marine Protected Area, EAD has undertaken extensive scientific research, including surveys and assessments of the coral reef habitat of the area, through a continuing Coral Reef Investigation project, studying of and satellite-tracking of marine turtles after their egg-laying and installation of permanent monitoring stations to monitor the regeneration of coral reefs.

"As part of its work to enforce the no-take regulations, EAD will install around 22 marine marker buoys to mark the MPA's boundaries," said the agency in a statement.

EAD already manages the Marawah Marine Protected Area, further to the east, and has already carried out several fishery studies and detailed surveys in order to set up a database of fish stocks.

Curbs to be in place on Al Yasat islands

- Any form of hunting, killing or catching wildlife is banned

- Damaging the nesting areas of birds and marine turtles is banned

- Changing the geographical features of the islands is prohibited

- Berthing of boats at non-designated areas is banned

- Fishing is restricted within three nautical miles from the nearest low water mark (shoreline) in the MPA.

Monitoring coral reefs

- Surveys and assessments being conducted as part of Coral Reef Investigation project.