For the first time ever, an entire coral reef has been relocated underwater. Of course, it happened here. Time Out Dubai finds out how and why.
Just over a year ago, 1,129 coral rocks were transported 18km underwater from Dubai Dry Docks to The World Island's breakwater. You might think this sounds absurd. But the actual transportation isn't the unique part - this has been achieved many times before, all over the world.
Rather, it was the method used that was revolutionary. ‘Traditional coral relocation exercises, involving chiseling or levering the whole corals by hand from the underlying surfaces have been taking place, typically on a small scale, for decades,' explains Brendan Jack, the Head of Sustainability & Environment for the project. ‘Due to the tightly encrusting growth habit of the coral on the Dubai Dry Docks breakwater, this traditional method was not an option, as trying to chisel or lever it off the rocks would only have shattered it into pieces. So, we had to come up with a different method to move the 22,500 coral colonies.' And what innovative method did they employ? ‘We drilled a rod into each rock, then, using a sling, we hoisted the rocks and attached them to a transport barge using a special glue that wouldn't harm the water or the reef.' Twenty of the 5m rocks could be moved per barge-trip, under divers' supervision to ensure they weren't bashed about and damaged too much. The barges also only travelled at a speed of 1-2 knots in order to minimise damage.
You might think this all sounds slightly unnecessary. Yet apparently there were several reasons for the move. Firstly, Nakheel were planning to build a new logistics facility there, in order to ship materials to The World islands. Secondly, property company Meeras were also planning to build a series of islands in the area. Both of these projects would have caused damage to the reef. That is, had they gone ahead. A year on, and both projects are now ‘under review'.
‘Signs had been noticed of a decline in the health of the reef,' counters Brendan. ‘Long term, the outlook was questionable. A marine scientist from Zayed University had been monitoring this reef for several years prior to the translocation and had already documented increasing damage.'
Indeed, Dr John Burt, an assistant professor at the department of natural science and public health at Zayed University has worked closely with Nakheel throughout the project - in exchange for a promise that his findings will be published in independent scientific journals once the final review of the translocation's success is completed, in about six months' time.
So, at this stage, does he think it has been a triumph?
‘With traditional methods of moving coral you generally get a survival rate of about 30 per cent,' John explained recently in a local newspaper. ‘In this case, around five per cent of the coral was lost during the move, and after the first month, seven per cent of it showed signs of discolouration, which is a sign that the coral is dying. However, in no cases did I see whole colonies die, and by the third month the discolouration was down to about two per cent. From the ecological side of things, it has been a success - pretty much all of the corals survived'
The Emirates Marine and Environmental Group also filmed the entire operation, and are prepped to monitor and nurture the reef if necessary.
Time Out snorkeled over the top of the area and saw a fair number of the estimated 30 species of fish that live off the re-positioned reef - although we couldn't get close to a lot of the rocks because rusty metal rods were still jutting out of them.
‘In six months we will promote the area as a dive site,' Brendan states. ‘But for now, to make sure our studies aren't compromised, we want to keep its location a secret.'
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