Marine conservation group aims to take Sheikh Zayed's legacy forward

Azraq launches in UAE to raise awareness of harmful plastic waste in our waters and shorelines

Plastics clog a beach in Umm Al Quwain. Nic Muhl
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Into the blue of the Arabian Gulf, a new conservation group has launched in the UAE to tackle marine debris and protect wildlife.

Azraq (Arabic for "blue") will work to raise awareness of the harmful effects of dumping litter in our seas and along our coastline.

Launched in the Year of Zayed, the NGO hopes to expand on UAE Founding Father Sheikh Zayed's vision of environmental sustainability and to celebrate his legacy, through encouraging the public to conserve resources, through the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle".

The initiative will focus specifically on marine conservation within the UAE but also aims to expand its message through the Mena region.

Natalie Banks, Azraq manager, said: "We are fortunate to celebrate our launch in the Year of Zayed, and hope that Azraq will be embraced by government and non-government entities, as well as the community for the good of the United Arab Emirates and its marine environment.

"We hope Azraq will give respect and credence to the Founding Father of the Emirates, who instilled across the nation the values of tolerance, environmentalism, leadership and charity."

Registered with the Community Development Authority as a not-for-profit, Azraq has partnered with organisations such as Freedom Pizza to take action on marine debris.

Partnership in the #stopsucking campaign has already successfully reduced plastic straw usage in food outlets across the UAE, with Jumeirah Group and Gates Hospitality following the lead of Freedom Pizza in removing the non-biodegradable strawsfrom their hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Azraq's board of seven UAE residents includes two Emiratis and its mission to "conserve and protect the marine environment" also includes raising awareness of shark and dolphin conservation in UAE waters.

Through strategic partnerships, Ms Banks is optimistic of creating a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.


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Globally, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, half of which is single-use items. It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of sea birds and 50 per cent of sea turtles have ingested a form of plastic. Pollution also harms other marine wildlife and crucial ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Fish can also mistake plastic debris for food, and this in turn heads up the food chain, with microparticles found in the flesh of fish eaten by humans. Environmental campaigners warn we are reaching a tipping point.

Ms Banks said: "Collectively our team have been studying the local and global marine life for over 10 years and we cannot stress the urgency of reducing plastic use. Without significant action now, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050."

International ethical cosmetics company Lush has now partnered with Azraq to raise awareness of recycling and reducing waste through the campaign #NoExcuseForSingleUse.

"Lush always aim to shed light on issues that will make a difference in the environment and marine life," said Anita Baker, Lush director for the Mena region.

"Working with like-minded NGOs like Azraq will encourage customers to eliminate single-use plastic in their everyday lives that gets washed up in our oceans."

Lush, founded in Poole, England, in 1995, has led the cosmetics industry in reducing wasteful packaging through innovative "naked" alternatives to liquid products, such as its solid shampoo bars and shower jellies.

Ms Baker said: "By introducing more naked products across our ranges, Lush aims to reduce unnecessary waste that ends up in our marine ecosystem. Also, as of January, we have committed to using only safe synthetic mica as an alternative to plastic glitter in all products, so microplastics do not end up in oceans and water supplies."

Fishing nets can be a deadly hazard for marine wildlife. This shark was caught in nets off Musandam, in September 2017. Photo by Angela Manthorpe

Azraq and its partners say we can all make a difference, whether it is shunning single-use plastic bags for reusable ones or banning beauty and laundry products that contain microbeads. Ms Banks said she hoped the community would join in protecting the UAE's environment.

She said: "We have an amazing team with an enormous amount of passion for marine conservation and expertise in global marine issues, and we are really looking forward to sharing the local knowledge we have gathered and showing how everyone can take steps to conserve and protect UAE waterways as well as the Arabian Gulf."

One of Azraq's first priorities will be a campaign against the littering of cigarette butts.

Ms Banks said: "Approximately 30 to 40 per cent of marine debris cleared from the coastline during clean-ups is cigarette butts. Most people don't realise that cigarette filters are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate which doesn't biodegrade.

"We are looking at an awareness campaign on the impact of cigarette waste on the environment and have plans to talk with the relevant authorities to discuss ways in which we can assist them in their efforts to divert waste from landfills."

Throughout April, talks about marine debris will take place at Lush outlets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They start on Friday, April 13, at City Centre Mirdif, Dubai, followed by Dubai Mall on April 14, and Yas Mall on April 25. The talks take place at 3pm.

To find out more about reducing plastic waste and protecting the environment, go to or @azraqme on social media