The UAE is committed to preserving its mangroves

The country's efforts to preserve its marine eco-systems are evident

Prince William plants mangrove seedlings with children at Jubail Mangrove Park in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
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A little more than two years ago, when the Jubail Mangrove Park opened to the public in Abu Dhabi, visitors flocked to the island to soak in the environment. In being able to explore the park, with the intertidal trees on both sides of the winding two-kilometre boardwalk, visitors learnt how these trees provide an indispensable natural habitat for numerous marine species.

Last week, during Prince William's visit to the UAE, and due to the time he spent addressing key conservation issues, including notably, planting mangrove saplings, the critical importance of these trees and the support they lend to the marine ecosystem was once again highlighted. With Abu Dhabi launching an ambitious mangrove conservation project, people were reminded about the characteristic benefits of mangroves and why it is essential to take good care of them.

The UAE's vast nature conservation programmes have already been at work. Just last month, the UAE Cabinet agreed the country would join the Leaders' Pledge for Nature, an international effort to increase protection of the planet’s land and oceans.

Last week, Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, spoke of the UAE's "marine wealth", emphasising the point that protecting marine resources and biodiversity are some of the key priorities of the UAE, where mangroves cover an estimated 150 square kilometres of the country's coastline. With such dedicated effort at conservation, it is every bit conceivable that the UAE will reach its stated goal of planting 100 million mangroves by 2030.

As in tropics and sub-tropical areas all over the world, in the UAE, too, mangroves protect the Emirates from rising sea levels and storms. Since they are found where sea meets land, mangroves can act as natural defences from waves and the wind. Peter Thomson, the UN's special envoy for oceans, wrote in a report on the state of the world's mangroves that they are especially useful in the world's goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as they have the remarkable ability to sequester carbon at a rate four times that of terrestrial forests.

In a time when the news about climate change is cause for worry, there are aspects of mangrove regeneration that evoke a sense of optimism: in the past 20 years, across the world, mangrove forests have shifted from being one of the fastest-diminishing habitats on Earth to being among the best protected.

The hardiness and natural resilience of these trees, which have adapted to live in salty, tropical climes, and in stressful environments, are among their most prominent features. A report co-authored by The Nature Conservancy, a global environment organisation, showed that mangroves have been a crucial defence to mitigate natural disasters in the US state of Florida. The report also said that during Hurricane Irma in 2017 in the Eastern Caribbean, mangroves protected more than half a million people and prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages.

Over centuries, they have acted as a flood defence, fortified coastlines and provided immeasurable benefits to colonies of sea life across the world, species both small and large – molluscs, crabs, crustaceans, but even larger life, be it dugongs, porpoises, crocodiles and even tigers – in the Sundarbans, one of the world's largest continuous mangrove forests, shared by Bangladesh and India. In many countries, coastal communities and fishers depend on the healthy proliferation of mangroves.

Here, in the UAE, with so much awareness of their importance, the pride of place of these remarkable trees, and a mangrove park that is easily accessible, their value is apparent. The priority that is accorded to them at the highest levels indicates that the country is an example of what can be achieved when, at the heart of national efforts, is a commitment to being good stewards of its marine wealth and the natural world.

Published: February 14, 2022, 2:00 AM