Home » UAE Study Calls for Greater Protection of Coastal Lagoons

UAE Study Calls for Greater Protection of Coastal Lagoons

by Madaline Dunn

A new study published by the “Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for Climate, Biodiversity and People” project has underlined the role of UAE coastal lagoons in strengthening national climate action plans, biodiversity conservation and the resilience of local communities.

The project, which received funding from HSBC Bank Middle East, is a partnership between the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), the Ministry of Economy (MoE), the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), the Government of Umm Al Quwain, Emirates Nature-WWF and the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).

As part of the NbS project, two priority seascapes were selected in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Umm Al Quwain, following a robust science-based process to identify sites suitable for NbS interventions.

Drone and underwater surveys conducted as part of the NbS project confirmed the presence of endangered and critically endangered species such as whiprays (Himantura spp.), blacktip reef shark (Carcharinus melanopterus), giant guitarfish (Rhynchobatus djiddensis), as well as green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and halavi guitarfish (Glaucostegus halavi) which are endemic to the Arabian Sea region.

The habitats were found to serve as crucial feeding grounds for sea turtles, reproductive areas for rays, and commercial fish aggregations.

The research also confirmed a strong interconnection between seagrass habitats and biodiversity.

Research showed that soils found in blue carbon ecosystems, namely mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass meadows, in the MENA region can sequester up to twice as much carbon as boreal, temperate or tropical forests.

Meanwhile, analysis of the two lagoons assessed significant carbon storage capacities per hectare for various habitats and revealed that a 160 km2 area stored approximately 900,763 metric tons of carbon in living biomass and soil (top 50 cm), equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of over 160,000 people from the UAE.

Without conservation and protection, the carbon stored in these ecosystems would be released back into the atmosphere, nullifying their potential for future carbon sequestration, the researchers said.

It was also found that mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass habitats that cover 171 km of the lagoons’ shoreline analysed offer natural protection against coastal hazards, such as erosion and inundation, safeguarding 47,400 people who live within 500 m of the area.

Further, on average, 17,800 people visit both lagoons annually, generating $22.75 million in associated revenue.

A total of 65 per cent of UAE Nationals, residents and tourists surveyed said it was “very important” to protect the lagoons and would be willing to pay AED 41 to visit a protected area where natural capital would be sustainably managed but also accessible to visitors.

The next phase of the NbS project includes developing a pipeline of ‘bankable’ NbS and Sustainable Blue Economy (SBE) projects, including ecotourism and agroecology, to support local economic growth and unlock suitable finance mechanisms to drive implementation and scale.

HE Razan Al Mubarak, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said that greater funding is required to implement Nature-based Solutions at scale.

“The coastal lagoon study is a useful tool for non-state actors, including the private sector, to understand the economic benefits of protecting and restoring our coasts and marine habitats.”

HE Al Mubarak called on businesses and financing institutions to “carefully consider” these opportunities and integrate Nature-based Solutions into their long-term decision-making.

Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Director General of Emirates Nature-WWF, which was the key implementation partner of the project, said: “The NbS project is the first of its kind to investigate the natural capital across the UAE’s top priority sites for credible Nature-based Solutions, combining expertise and resources of multiple stakeholders. We were delighted to showcase domestic insights at COP28 to enhance global dialogue, and also to garner greater political and financial support for high-impact NbS projects in the region.”

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