Hot seat: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature, talks to <em>Time Out</em> about the future of the wildlife in Dubai and the threat to the UAE’s coral reefs.

Hot seat, The Knowledge

There has been much talk about the condition of our coral reefs here in Dubai, but also in the UAE. Can you tell us what condition they are in?
Coral reefs are home to 25 per cent of all marine life. However, the bulk of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by human activity. To-date we have lost 27 per cent of the planet’s reefs. The Arabian Gulf is one of the areas most affected. Recent estimates place 30 per cent of the Gulf’s coral reefs at a threatened critical stage, while 65 per cent may have already been lost.

What is it that is damaging the reefs?
There are two types of threat: physical and biological. The physical threats include short term climatic effects, such as storm damage and also long term climate change. Many coral reefs, like those in the Arabian Gulf, are close to major commercial shipping lanes, and groundings on reefs by ships are a persistent and increasing problem. Among the list of biological threats are overfishing, disease, and the introduction of exotic species.

Are the coral reefs essential for the UAE’s tourist economy in terms of attracting divers?
Yes, but they’re not only important for the tourist economy. 25 per cent of our fi sh stock depends on the coral reefs. They also protect our coastlines by reducing currents and waves. And several products for treatments against asthma, cancer, heart disease and AIDS are produced from corals. Who knows what other opportunities there are for developing future life-saving and important medicine from corals?

Presumably the government is taking this very seriously?
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai take the protection of the environment, their coastal areas and ecosystems very seriously and it’s important for everyone to work together. The Coral Reef Conservation Management Plan [to protect the coral reefs] is a good example of a successful collaboration between researchers from the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, Qatar’s Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Resources. It was sponsored by Dolphin Energy Limited and managed by the UAE’s Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) and the regional branch of the (WWF). Expert scientific support was provided by coral reef specialists from the National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI) in Florida. It was agreed by all parties and has now been entrusted to the environmental regulators of Qatar and Abu Dhabi, who are responsible for its implementation.

Is Dubai’s wildlife under threat more generally?
The transition from a small trading hub to a modern, highly urbanised city in less than 40 years has of course affected the natural environment. Marine turtles, for example, have been nesting for many centuries on the beaches of Dubai. Turtles always come back to the beach where they were born, so you can imagine what happens when a turtle that hatched 30 years ago come back to lay its eggs on its birth-place beach in Dubai.

Are there any other challenges to the environment here in Dubai?
We are all affected by the challenges of climate change, global warming and depletion of natural resources, both in Dubai and worldwide. World resources are being consumed 25 per cent faster on average than their availability. This trend towards using too much of our resources began in the early 80s. On average the UAE resident consumes significantly more then their share of the planet.

So what is being done about the situation?
Projects such as Masdar, the world’s first zero-carbon, zero waste and car-free city in Abu Dhabi, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai’s request for Dubai to use energy more efficiently shows that the UAE is heading in a direction where the environment plays an increasingly important role, economically and politically.

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