Marine life across the world is screaming out for our help. You may not be able to hear the little fishy voices, but, trust us, these creatures need our aid. Some are caked in oil and many of the tastier, nearly extinct morsels end up on a plate in fancy seafood restaurants. Some die due to toxic waste poisoning in waters that are used as a dumping ground, and some of their homes – thousands of years old, we hasten to add – have been turned into concrete skyscrapers.
Sadly, none of us are an innocent in all this carnage. We drive gas-guzzling cars with huge petrol consumptions, eat ‘exotic’ foods and stay in pretty hotels that practically float in the sea. There is, however, a way you can offset all that bad karma, by joining a few individuals from the UAE who have an ingenious plan.
Al Murjan, meaning ‘coral’ in Arabic, is the name of a new environmental project conceived by divers at Dubai Ladies Club, Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG) and the Shangri-La and Traders Hotels. As the first project of its kind in the UAE, the group intends to grow living Acropora coral off the coast of Dubai, putting good stuff back into the sea, rather than taking it out.
As we know, there are already a number of artificial reef projects around UAE shores, including off The World Islands, The Palm and Fujairah beach. These generate a certain amount of marine life, and have proven to be successful dive sites. However, this pilot will revolutionise coral projects here in the UAE and, if it takes off, will provide food and shelter for marine life, protect the coast from erosion, support commercial fishing and diving, and spur a Dhs3 million starfish reef project off our coastline, which is set to notably increase the biodiversity and local ecology in the area.
The concept is actually pretty simple, explains EMEG marine programme director Keith Wilson. ‘We take finger-length pieces of coral from another site and glue them [into the new location] with underwater cement. It will grow in six months.’ It’s a surprisingly easy, environmentally friendly method. ‘There is no need to destroy the parent colony,’ adds Wilson. Any brain corals (the round, bulbous types) used are rescued
from private construction sites. ‘If conditions prove to be suitable for growth, corals will soon develop into sizeable table corals within three years,’ says Wilson. ‘Table corals can grow at very fast rates in Dubai, up to 10cm per year.’ However, the nearby waters may prove stressful for the reef, so these new developments will need all the help they can get. ‘There is a fair amount of sediment in the area, but we’re hoping to eventually attract marine life such as tropical citron goby, butterfly fish and parrot fish.’
The project will get under way in February 2011, when the coastal waters are at the ideal temperature. In the meantime, volunteers can sign up in preparation for this pilot scheme by registering on the EMEG website at www.emeg.ae. Later there will be the opportunity to take part in beach patrols and events, as well as monitoring the coral reef and wildlife attracted to the area. If the project is successful, there will no doubt also be plenty of fundraising opportunities.
Rene Egle, general manager of Traders Hotel Dubai (owned by the Shangri-La chain), was immediately attracted to supporting the project. He wanted to invest in sustainability in the UAE, but believes that some environmental projects here don’t make an obvious difference. ‘There is a lot of construction and we live in the desert,’ says Egle. ‘Where do you start? I’ve always had an aversion to projects such as cleaning-up tasks.Why not educate the perpetrators to clean as they go?’ This project is different and immediately struck a chord with Egle. ‘Here we are growing something, and it will make a difference in the long term.’ Following initial chats about growing life in the ocean, Egle and Dubai Ladies Club have recruited marine biologists, identified a site off the coast and teamed up with Emirates Marine Environmental Group.
‘There are many ways you can help the environment these days, from recycling your rubbish to using environmentally friendly products, but this project is a unique opportunity to give something back in a tangible way,’ says Dubai Ladies Club wellness manager Maddie Stocks. ‘I’ve witnessed first-hand the disruption caused underwater by all the developments; this is a chance to take steps to help it repair itself. Dubai is not known for its underwater life, but there’s nothing stopping us from changing that.’
To get involved in the project, from joining beach patrols and analysing data to learning about the UAE’s marine life, visit www.emeg.ae or call Dubai Ladies Club (04 349 9922, ext 200) or Francine (050 809 3701).