Abu Dhabi coral reef monitoring stations set up

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is conducting surveys to track the condition of coral reefs in the emirate’s waters through 10 newly installed monitoring and control stations.

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ABU DHABI // The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is surveying the condition of the coral reefs in the emirate’s coastal waters through 10 new monitoring and control stations.

Ibrahim Bakla, the head of the marine evaluation and control unit at the environment agency, said the 10 stations were inspected at six-month intervals to record coral reef data.

Additional random visits are conducted for specific surveys or to assess the condition of the coral and identify any effects of natural or man-made events.

Speaking to Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister newspaper to The National, he said the stations monitored temperature fluctuations hourly throughout the year and assessed data related to coral growth, live coral, dead coral and coral diseases.

The monitoring stations are at Ras Ghaanda, Al Saadiyat, Al Dabeya, Al Hayl, Delma, Makasseb, Al Yasat, Baraka and Sir Bani Yas.

Mr Bakla said that the health of corals had greatly deteriorated in the tropics and subtropics of the world, including the Arabian Gulf area, because of rises in temperature and coastal development, which is one of the main reasons for the increased risks to these vital coral reefs.

This is precisely why John Burt, the associate professor and head of the NYU Abu Dhabi marine biology lab, studies the reefs in the UAE.

“The Arabian Gulf is the world’s hottest sea,” Dr Burt said. “Abu Dhabi reefs can provide incredible insight into how corals may adapt to increasing temperatures expected under future climate change.”

Experts said studies had shown that despite the low biological diversity of coral reefs in general, it appears that protected reefs do return to their normal condition and replenish their losses.

The systems will also monitor the algae that grows around corals and study coral reef fish and other living organisms.

In a collaborative project in March this year between New York University Abu Dhabi and University of Southampton in the UK, researchers identified a unique species of symbiotic algae that grows in corals in the southern Arabian Gulf.

The discovery helped conservationists around the world to better preserve local coral reefs, said Prof Burt.

But the symbiotic association is vulnerable to changes in environmental conditions, particularly increases in seawater temperature.

The new monitoring stations could help to identify changes and correlations between temperature and coral health.

This is important to researchers because heat-stress-induced loss of the algal partners from the coral host could result in the often fatal process known as “coral bleaching”, instances of which occurred in 1996 and 1998.

“In those years we reached a temperature of 37.7°C, the temperature of your blood,” said Prof Burt.

Research is continuing at NYUAD on the correlations and health of the reefs.