The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation plan to revive the heritage and traditions of the emirate’s pearl industry.
Abu Dhabi Pearls project, established in 2007, involves farming high-quality pearls using modern and sustainable practices.
It set an ambitious goal of cultivating 80,000 oysters and producing 20,000 high-quality and sustainable pearls annually in the emirate’s waters.
Since its establishment, the project has helped to revive the sector’s heritage and preserve local oysters and pearls through participation in local and international events.
Joint projects with educational institutions were also launched, along with a technical component to create jewellery designs using cultured pearls.
Under the partnership between EAD and the FAO, the two seek to educate people on pearl farming techniques while also promoting them as a key model for sustainable aquaculture that has many environmental, social and economic benefits.
The partnership includes knowledge sharing, the provision of technical support and the organisation of technical aquaculture workshops.
The project is part of a broader collaboration between FAO and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which focuses on introducing sustainable aquaculture and building a sector that creates jobs, protects the environment and supports livelihoods in the long term.
A rich heritage of traditions
Pearling played a crucial role in the UAE's economy before the discovery of oil in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In the 19th century, pearl diving accounted for as much as 95 per cent of the region's income, and at its height early in the 20th century, about 80,000 men worked on the pearling vessels — 22,000 in the Trucial States alone.
The historic centre of pearl diving in the Arabian Gulf, however, was and is Bahrain, where last year the country's Institute for Pearls and Gemstones said it significantly increased the number of diving licences it issued, including for the first time, female pearl divers.
Ahmed Al Hashemi, EAD's executive director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity, said the partnership will contribute to the promotion of the Abu Dhabi Pearls project, which he said is “one of the leading aquaculture projects in the region”.
“Pearl diving was once a risky profession that provided seasonal employment and an opportunity for wealth and prosperity,” Mr Al Hashemi said.
“It was never merely a trade or a means of subsistence, but an entirely integrated social system which has nurtured a rich heritage of traditions.
“At EAD we continuously seek to protect our national heritage while protecting the environment and the development of sustainable practices within aquaculture is driving our efforts, supported by our fruitful co-operation with FAO.”
Lionel Dabbadie, senior aquaculture and fishery officer at the FAO in Abu Dhabi, said: “The pearl oyster project designed and implemented by EAD not only provides a source of income for young Emirati entrepreneurs, but it also contributes to conserve biodiversity and protect the ecosystem, in line with the blue transformation objectives that FAO promotes.
“By partnering with EAD, FAO looks forward to developing sustainable aquaculture and contributing to achieving the UAE goal of becoming a world-leading hub in innovation-driven food security by 2051.”