Environmental chiefs in Abu Dhabi have moved to reassure residents of Al Raha Beach amid concerns about the quality of seawater in the area.
Environment Agency Abu Dhabi deemed the water to be safe but said it was conducting a “thorough investigation” to assess any potential environmental effects that might occur.
“Our priority is to safeguard the marine ecosystem and well-being of residents and visitors,” an agency representative told The National.
“We would like again to reassure the public that there are no negative impacts on the marine environment in Al Raha Beach and it is safe. Al Raha channel area is monitored on a regular basis.”
Residents told The National that the matter was raised by the association of owners in Al Muneera district during a meeting in May this year.
However, a month later, property management company Provis sent an email to allay concerns about environmental pollution or health hazards.
“It is a natural phenomenon based on scientific facts as the water colour change indicates an algal bloom. It is not harmful to human and the environment,” Provis said in the email seen by The National.
The company said investigations by the agency had concluded that the algal bloom and debris carried by waves into the bay happened at certain times of the year and did not cause pollution.
However, the beach was closed in July and Provis sent another email advising residents to avoid swimming in the water.
“While we await the results of the authorities' investigations, as a precautionary measure, we kindly advise the community members to avoid using the water for swimming and any direct contact until further notice,” read the email.
Provis was approached by The National for comment.
Eyesore for residents
Residents of the waterfront community told The National that the quality and colour of the water were “getting worse by the day”.
Many residents said the beach and canal had become an eyesore due to the brown water and algae.
Genevieve Leclerc, who lives in Al Muneera, said the water quality had deteriorated since last year.
“I have been living in the community since 2012 and I love this place,” she told The National. “But we are worried as the seawater quality has been deteriorating since last summer at a rapid pace.”
The Canadian resident, who purchased her apartment in 2014, said she was worried about the impact on the environment.
A professor from New York University Abu Dhabi, who has been conducting research on water quality along Al Raha Beach, confirmed that the pollution was caused by an algal bloom and warned that some of the algae species could become toxic – explaining the beach closure and subsequent investigation by authorities.
“I have been collecting water samples every week since April, and there has been a sustained algal bloom in the area,” Shady Amin, a biological oceanographer and a member of the university's environmental centre, Access, told The National.
Tests Mr Amin conducted in July revealed that the algal species did not contain any toxins and were harmless.
The greyish-brown colour of the water is a result of the algae's pigmentation, he said.
The algal blooms are common in coastal areas and occur due to natural reasons such as rain, which causes nutrient-rich water to rise from the bottom of the sea, and dust storms that bring nutrients in the form of phosphate and iron particles.
Al Raha Beach residents faced a similar problem in 2020 when sewage was allegedly pumped into the water, causing discolouration. Aldar launched an investigation and rectified the matter.
One resident of Al Zeina said they were currently “sad and disappointed” since red flags had been raised along the beach warning residents not to swim.
“I used to spend five days a week on the beach with my eldest daughter. But I am truly heart-broken that my newborn cannot experience the same,” said the mother of two who asked not to be named.
“The very reason we moved to Al Raha was for the beach. Now we are paying the same price, but the biggest perk of the area is gone,” she said.
Arturo Patino, a Spanish resident of Al Muneera, said the issue had not been addressed despite several complaints.
Mr Patino, who has lived in the area for the past nine years, said the closure of the beach in July deepened their fears about water quality.
“It is so unpleasant to look at from the balcony,” he told The National. “The water was a turquoise blue in 2021 and I started seeing stains from December 2022.”
EAD officials have called on the public to report observations or issues related to seawater quality through official channels, including the Abu Dhabi Government Call Centre (800555) and EAD's platforms.