Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi examine coral in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in hopes that it will provide new insight into how corals around the world will be able to cope with climate change. Courtesy NYU Abu Dhabi
Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi examine coral in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in hopes that it will provide new insight into how corals around the world will be able to cope with climate change. Cou

Key to saving corals from climate change may lie in Arabian Gulf

Researchers are one step closer to seeing if Arabian Gulf corals provide a lifeline for coral reefs worldwide under threat from rising sea temperatures.

The Arabian Gulf’s high salinity and temperatures provide scientists with a unique living laboratory in the fight against climate change.

NYU Abu Dhabi researchers performed DNA analysis on corals collected from reefs in the Arabian Gulf near Abu Dhabi and from sites in the slightly cooler Gulf of Oman around Fujairah and Muscat.

The purpose of the research is to map out the genome of coral reefs in the Gulf and study what gives them the ability to tolerate and survive the salinity and harsh conditions that other reefs could suffer from.

Results will help scientists better understand the super gene which makes them tolerant to temperatures around 36C and determine if coral reefs around the world have a better chance of coping with global warming.


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The coral samples from the two Gulf seas revealed important differences. The Arabian Gulf corals and their algae were found to be genetically distinct from their counterparts in Gulf of Oman.

NYUAD researcher Dr Emily Howells previously carried out studies with researchers at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi and Oregon State University in the United States, that revealed genetic differences between corals living off Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island (in the very warm Arabian Gulf) and corals off Fujairah (in the slightly milder Gulf of Oman).

The findings had also showed that corals off Abu Dhabi had indeed adapted genetically to warmer conditions.

The researchers at NYUAD also studied the algae that live in the coral tissue to discern why the corals are different and what changed to allow them to survive in such high temperatures.

A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS On investigated the genetic structure of the coral platygyra daedalea and algae in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

“This will help us understand the mechanisms involved in coral thermal adaptation, and provide new insight into whether corals elsewhere in the world will be able to cope with climate change,” said Edward Smith, postdoctoral associate researcher at NYU Abu Dhabi.

“Once we can understand that then we can look at corals elsewhere to say that maybe certain regions or certain types of corals share biological similarities with those that we find within the Gulf.”

Coral reefs are under intense pressure from climate change. When sea temperatures rise, corals expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white. The phenomenon known as coral bleaching occurred on a mass scale in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef and experts expect continued damage in coming years.

Although coral reefs cover only less than one per cent of the world’s sea, a quarter of the marine species are found on the corals.

Arabian Gulf coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems in the region and support economic industries such as fisheries.

“Unfortunately, the conditions that have made Arabian Gulf corals among the hardiest known to science, also makes them vulnerable: they are living in very stressful conditions, and any further stress can push them over the edge”, said John Burt, NYUAD associate professor of biology.

“In the past three decades we’ve witnessed widespread degradation of reefs around the region, with sedimentation from coastal development and nearshore reclamation being the prime culprits,” he said.

“If we are to conserve these scientifically and economically important natural assets, management efforts to limit human stressors are critical.”

Ruwais timeline

1971 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company established

1980 Ruwais Housing Complex built, located 10 kilometres away from industrial plants

1982 120,000 bpd capacity Ruwais refinery complex officially inaugurated by the founder of the UAE Sheikh Zayed

1984 Second phase of Ruwais Housing Complex built. Today the 7,000-unit complex houses some 24,000 people.  

1985 The refinery is expanded with the commissioning of a 27,000 b/d hydro cracker complex

2009 Plans announced to build $1.2 billion fertilizer plant in Ruwais, producing urea

2010 Adnoc awards $10bn contracts for expansion of Ruwais refinery, to double capacity from 415,000 bpd

2014 Ruwais 261-outlet shopping mall opens

2014 Production starts at newly expanded Ruwais refinery, providing jet fuel and diesel and allowing the UAE to be self-sufficient for petrol supplies

2014 Etihad Rail begins transportation of sulphur from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais for export

2017 Aldar Academies to operate Adnoc’s schools including in Ruwais from September. Eight schools operate in total within the housing complex.

2018 Adnoc announces plans to invest $3.1 billion on upgrading its Ruwais refinery 

2018 NMC Healthcare selected to manage operations of Ruwais Hospital

2018 Adnoc announces new downstream strategy at event in Abu Dhabi on May 13

Source: The National

Haemoglobin disorders explained

Thalassaemia is part of a family of genetic conditions affecting the blood known as haemoglobin disorders.

Haemoglobin is a substance in the red blood cells that carries oxygen and a lack of it triggers anemia, leaving patients very weak, short of breath and pale.

The most severe type of the condition is typically inherited when both parents are carriers. Those patients often require regular blood transfusions - about 450 of the UAE's 2,000 thalassaemia patients - though frequent transfusions can lead to too much iron in the body and heart and liver problems.

The condition mainly affects people of Mediterranean, South Asian, South-East Asian and Middle Eastern origin. Saudi Arabia recorded 45,892 cases of carriers between 2004 and 2014.

A World Health Organisation study estimated that globally there are at least 950,000 'new carrier couples' every year and annually there are 1.33 million at-risk pregnancies.

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