Article

Synthesis and evaluation of coastal and marine biodiversity spatial information in the United Arab Emirates for ecosystem-based management

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Abstract

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) host valuable coastal and marine biodiversity that is subjected to multiple pressures under extreme conditions. To mitigate impacts on marine ecosystems, the UAE protects almost 12% of its Exclusive Economic Zone. This study mapped and validated the distribution of key coastal and marine habitats, species and critical areas for their life cycle in the Gulf area of the UAE. We identified gaps in the current protection of these ecological features and assessed the quality of the data used. The overall dataset showed good data quality, but deficiencies in information for the coastline of the northwestern emirates. The existing protected areas are inadequate to safeguard key ecological features such as mangroves and coastal lagoons. This study offers a solid basis to understand the spatial distribution and protection of marine biodiversity in the UAE. This information should be considered for implementing effective conservation planning and ecosystem-based management.

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... The focal area (53,680 km 2 ) was divided into hexagonal planning units of 4 km 2 each. Relatively high spatial resolution of the planning units was possible because of the detailed coastal habitat maps produced by Emirates Nature-WWF Mateos-Molina et al., 2021a) and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD, 2018) and a national systematic conservation planning project to identify and map Areas of Particular Importance to Marine Biodiversity (APIMBs) (Ben Lamine et al., 2020). Dubai and UAE's coastline in the Gulf of Oman were outside of the geographical scope due to key spatial data gaps on biodiversity that precluded the application of several essential criteria. ...
... Because the focus was on a rapid site-selection process, a full data quality assessment was not conducted. However, the habitat maps and APIMBs and their associated input data underwent an extensive development process that included stakeholder input and validation (Ben Lamine et al., 2020;Mateos-Molina et al., 2020;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021a). Elsewhere we relied primarily on authoritative global datasets and stakeholder knowledge to fill remaining data gaps. ...
... A spatial proxy for carbon storage value was developed by applying mean carbon stock values measured in discrete habitat types in the UAE (Schile et al., 2017) to coastal habitat maps of the two study areas Mateos-Molina et al., 2021a). Four data sources of mapped coastal habitat were merged to create the most up-to-date unified map of vegetated blue carbon habitat for the study area (Table S1). ...
Article
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Coastal seascapes are productive and diverse land-sea systems that provide many valuable benefits yet are increasingly threatened by human activity. Scaling up of nature-based solutions (NbS) to effectively protect, sustainably manage, and restore coastal seascapes is urgently required for mitigation of climate change and biodiversity loss while also providing socioeconomic benefits. Evidence-based site selection is an important first step to improve the outcomes and avoid negative impacts when prioritizing NbS investments at national level. We developed a spatially explicit, integrative and culturally relevant ecosystem-based site selection process to identify a portfolio of seascapes for NbS consideration in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The primary goal was to rank planning units based on potential for climate change mitigation action, positive impact to biodiversity and socioeconomic benefits to people. The multi-criteria site-selection framework provided a rapid, transparent, repeatable and scalable tool. The highest weightings were assigned to blue carbon storage value, biodiversity conservation features, and local stakeholder preferred areas. Spatial proxies for benefits to people were represented by population density and accessibility to coastal seascapes, relative tourism and recreation potential, and importance of fish habitat and fishing grounds for food security. Participatory mapping of local knowledge and review of existing data ensured that both qualitative and quantitative criteria were reliable, up-to-date and locally relevant. Two distinct clusters of high suitability planning units were identified in the Abu Dhabi region and four along the northwestern coast of the UAE. Most high suitability sites were located outside of existing marine protected areas. Alternative spatial scenarios without stakeholder bias underscored the suitability of sites identified through participatory mapping and highlighted additional priority sites for future scaling-up of NbS. A spatial corridor of medium and high suitability planning units across the region offers potential for designing well-connected NbS investments to accelerate and boost synergistic outcomes and increase resilience. The site selection framework provides a rapid tool that integrates local and global open access data at a range of scales with great potential for transferability to other regions worldwide.
... The conservation of mangroves is essential since they provide multiple ecological services, control coastal erosion, and have regional tourist potential [27]. Due to this, the implementation of control, management, and planning policies appear through spatial analysis techniques, remote sensing, and indicators to preserve ecosystem services by local and regional governments [28][29][30][31][32]. ...
... They promote the conservation of coastal resources and point out that the diversity and abundance of species and habitats make mangroves and estuaries the most valuable and productive ecosystems on the planet [18,72]. Not only do they have a rich habitat diversity for birds [96], but they also have coral communities [30] and fish fauna [56]; further, they improve water quality, reduce the impact of flooding, store large amounts of carbon [97], and have a variety of substrate nutrients [4]. ...
Article
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Marine-coastal ecosystems are productive and valuable habitats worldwide due to their significant contributions to human wellbeing. However, human activities, limited territorial planning, and unsustainable demand and consumption of natural goods and services put pressure on marine-coastal ecosystems. In this sense, marine-coastal planning is a management tool to contrast these forces because it manages different human activities on the coast and in the oceans over space and time, strengthening political, social, and tourist development and the economy of the territory. Our objective is to propose marine-coastal spatial planning strategies through an ecosystem-based approach for allocating a mangrove and estuarine zone conservation area. The study methodology is: (i) Compilation of information from the study area with an emphasis on regulations and protected areas. (ii) Analysis of human relations with marine-coastal ecosystems. (iii) Mapping and zoning of the conservation area. (iv) Analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and threats, weaknesses, opportunities, strengths (SWOT–TWOS) matrix to recommend strategies and guarantee the viability of marine-coastal protection. The results show zoning maps of the sector proposed as a conservation area comprising mangroves and an estuarine zone. It also approaches governance strategies or conservation management measures and protection of the marine-coastal space. Finally, as a recommendation, we propose improvements to the current municipal ordinances, guaranteeing the management and protection of the study area, and furthering achievements in the comprehensive development of land-use planning.
... There have been increasing efforts in marine conservation and environmental management across the region in recent years in response to the growing awareness of the importance of coastal ecosystems and their vulnerable status (Grizzle et al., 2016;Hamza & Munawar, 2009;Khan, 2007;Lamine et al., 2020;Warren et al., 2016). At the national level, Gulf countries are increasingly establishing marine protected areas (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012;Van Lavieren & Klaus, 2013), adopting ecosystem-based management approaches ( Burt et al., 2017;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021), developing policies towards more sustainable fishing practices (Grandcourt, 2012), strengthening environmental impact assessment processes and enhancing environmental regulations and laws (Naser, 2015). Gulf nations have also adopted various regional and international frameworks that seek to reduce environmental degradation and enhance sustainable development practices (Nadim et al., 2008), including the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. ...
Article
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A diverse and productive mosaic of highly important ecosystems border the coastline of the Arabian Gulf, providing invaluable goods and services to coastal populations and representing the most biodiverse habitats in a region better known for its arid deserts. Recently, however, these ecosystems have come under escalating pressure from urbanization, fisheries activity, and global climate change. Artificial reefs have been in use for centuries in the Gulf region, where they were inherited through family lines and regulated under the senat al-bahar (the ‘code of the sea’). Today, regional marine managers and policymakers are increasingly promoting artificial reefs as a tool to mitigate the ongoing impacts on Gulf ecosystems and fisheries. Artificial reefs may support some goals of marine managers and policymakers, but they are not a panacea and involve many risks. Without appropriate design, regulation, and management, artificial reefs can exacerbate existing problems or inadvertently create new issues that add to management burdens in coastal areas.
... Gulf leaders have become increasingly aware of both the importance of coastal ecosystems and the threats to them, and various marine conservation efforts have been instituted in recent years (Khan, 2007;Hamza and Munawar, 2009;Lamine et al., 2020). Marine environmental management actions have included establishing marine protected areas (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012;Van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013), adopting ecosystem-based management approaches (Burt et al., 2017;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021), developing more sustainable fishing practices (Grandcourt, 2012), enhancing environmental regulations and strengthening environmental impact assessment processes (Naser, 2015). Gulf nations have also adopted various regional and international frameworks to improve sustainable development practices, address climate change, prevent pollution and protect biodiversity, including the Regional Organization for Protection of Marine Environment (ROPME) (Nadim et al., 2008;Lincoln et al., 2021), the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and many others (Al-Saidi, 2021). ...
Article
Artificial reef (AR) deployment has increased dramatically in the Arabian Gulf in recent years, and will likely continue as Gulf nations continue to develop their coastlines and expand fisheries. Unfortunately, there is little publicly-available information about AR programs in the Gulf, including information about management goals and program success. ARs can provide economic, social and ecological benefits, but they also have underappreciated risks associated with them. Benefits include increasing short-term catch rates for fisheries, increasing tourism, enhancing and protecting biodiversity and providing ecological services. Risks include exacerbating regional overfishing in the long-term, facilitating the spread of invasive species, altering benthic habitat around the AR, contributing to marine pollution and creating habitats that are “sinks” for larval fish. This paper provides recommendations for managers that are considering whether to initiate AR programs in the Arabian Gulf. Deployment of ARs should not be used as an excuse to allow the destruction or degradation of natural habitat, since ARs are not surrogates of natural habitat. Managers should define clear, explicit management goals in the planning stages of the reef project, and then design and deploy the reef to meet those particular goals. Managers should also set quantifiable objectives for each goal, and implement long-term monitoring programs to determine whether the reef is successful in meeting its goals. Finally, managers should disseminate the results of the monitoring program and share “lessons learned”. Implementation of these recommendations will help to guide future sustainable AR programs in the Arabian Gulf and elsewhere.
... However, oyster beds are not protected in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Currently, local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) only protect other essential fisheries grounds such as coral reefs (65 % of known coral reef areas are currently protected), seagrass (55 %), and mangroves (10 %) (Mateos-Molina et al., 2021). Previous regional studies have focused on anthropogenic impacts on oyster beds (Al-Khayat and Al-Ansi, 2008;Hightower, 2013;Ibrahim et al., 2018;Smyth et al., 2015;Smyth et al., 2016aSmyth et al., , 2016b, but little is known of their current socio-economic value. ...
Preprint
There is scarce information on the current importance of oyster beds as fishing grounds in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This study aims to understand the socioeconomic value of oyster bed fisheries through questionnaire based surveys with fishers. Of 106 Emirati fishers interviewed, 67 % use oyster beds due to the proximity to shore, better catch quality, and species abundance. Oyster bed fisheries are recreational and commercial, with handline and fish traps the most common used gears. They provide food for local consumption and cash income. All respondents noticed a fish abundance and size decrease throughout the last decade. Fishers suggest establishing marine protected areas and updating fishing regulations to improve fishing stock status. During the Covid-19 pandemic, oyster fisheries increased, highlighting the value of these fishing grounds for food availability. These fisheries support the local economy and heritage, and urgently need management to ensure the protection of these often-overlooked habitats.
... Acropora were a major reef builder at SBN, similar to former reefs in the region (Kinsman, 1964;Purser and Evans, 1973;Qatar andBahrain: Burt et al., 2013, 2016), yet this genus has been reported rare or absent for several years in multiple locations in southern Gulf surveys (Qatar and Bahrain: Burt et al., 2013Burt et al., , 2016Abu Dhabi: Bento et al., 2016;Burt et al., 2019). Sir Bu Nair MPA houses one of the most diverse assemblages of corals in the UAE and the last remaining large stands of Acropora spp. in the southern Arabian Gulf (Grizzle et al., 2016;Mateos-Molina et al., 2020, 2021a, 2021b. The considerable distance from the main coast, which carries low levels of associated disturbancese.g. ...
Article
Coral reefs across the southern Arabian Gulf have declined in the past two decades, with extensive loss of formerly Acropora table corals, which are now functionally extinct in nearshore reefs. This study documents the coral community at Sir Bu Nair (SBN), an offshore island buffered by less extreme environmental conditions, which contains the last remaining large stands of Acropora in the southern Gulf. We found that Acropora is a major reef-building coral throughout SBN. Mean coral cover was 27% (range: 6%-49%) across all sites and depths, of which more than half was comprised by Acropora. This varied around the island, with the highest densities to the south and southwest in shallow waters. Our study provides essential information for the management and conservation of these highly valuable and vulnerable corals.
... There have been increasing efforts in marine conservation and environmental management across the region in recent years in response to the growing awareness of the importance of coastal ecosystems and their vulnerable status (Grizzle et al., 2016;Hamza & Munawar, 2009;Khan, 2007;Lamine et al., 2020;Warren et al., 2016). At the national level, Gulf countries are increasingly establishing marine protected areas (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012;Van Lavieren & Klaus, 2013), adopting ecosystem-based management approaches ( Burt et al., 2017;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021), developing policies towards more sustainable fishing practices (Grandcourt, 2012), strengthening environmental impact assessment processes and enhancing environmental regulations and laws (Naser, 2015). Gulf nations have also adopted various regional and international frameworks that seek to reduce environmental degradation and enhance sustainable development practices (Nadim et al., 2008), including the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. ...
Technical Report
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A diverse and productive mosaic of highly important ecosystems border the coastline of the Arabian Gulf, providing invaluable goods and services to coastal populations and representing the most biodiverse habitats in a region better known for its arid deserts. Recently, however, these ecosystems have come under escalating pressure from urbanization, fisheries activity, and global climate change. Artificial reefs have been in use for centuries in the Gulf region, where they were inherited through family lines and regulated under the senat al-bahar (the ‘code of the sea’). Today, regional marine managers and policymakers are increasingly promoting artificial reefs as a tool to mitigate the ongoing impacts on Gulf ecosystems and fisheries. Artificial reefs may support some goals of marine managers and policymakers, but they are not a panacea and involve many risks. Without appropriate design, regulation, and management, artificial reefs can exacerbate existing problems or inadvertently create new issues that add to management burdens in coastal areas. The purpose of this policy report is to summarize the available knowledge on artificial reefs as tools for marine management, specifically in the unique environmental and social context of the Arabian Gulf. The paper highlights the importance of Gulf coastal ecosystems and recent regional changes to demonstrate the need for more active interventions from marine managers. Next, the paper conducts a global assessment of the proposed goals and benefits of artificial reefs from the scholarly literature. We then highlight potential detrimental effects of artificial reefs that are often unrecognized or overlooked, but which can profoundly impact the success of artificial reef programs. The paper concludes with six key recommendations for policymakers and marine managers considering artificial reef programs in the Arabian Gulf.
... All stakeholders involved in the project contributed to the evaluation and validation of the final habitat map. This exercise further delineated unique and vulnerable habitats creating an additional layer of information for managing and understanding critical coastal habitats in the UAE Arabian Gulf, as well as assessing their protection in the UAE (Mateos-Molina et al., 2021). ...
Article
Coastal habitat mapping is a potentially powerful enabling tool to inform the design of strategies and actions in coastal zone planning and management, biodiversity conservation and more recently for blue carbon accounting. Habitat mapping is typically carried out by experts in remote sensing and geographical information systems, and rarely integrates stakeholders' local ecological knowledge. To address a key knowledge gap in a previously unmapped coastal region of the Arabian Gulf, we applied a mixed-methods habitat mapping framework that integrates conventional remote sensing methods with shared knowledge from participatory mapping with local stakeholders. Using methodological pluralism, an accurate and cost-effective coastal habitat map was produced that had local relevance, facilitated knowledge exchange, considered socio-ecological factors, and incorporated spatial details that would have been absent or under-represented with conventional remote sensing methods. We demonstrate the relevance of the coastal habitat map as an enabler of actions that address multiple local and global sustainable development and biodiversity conservation policy targets for the Arabian Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates.
... Already, the Gulf is demonstrating new appetite for communication and collaboration between the science, regulatory and policy communities for the purposes of understanding and addressing environmental challenges. For example, ecosystem-based management approaches that require integration of perspectives across these stakeholders are increasingly being employed in the region (Fanning et al., 2021;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021). By pursuing scientifically informed coastal management, the UAE can spur a dialectical approach of research and development, which will help in tackling many other challenges that require the conjoint effort of science and policy. ...
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a long-term policy horizon, the financial capital, and a vision for a sustainable knowledge-based economy. These characteristics uniquely situate it as a potential leader for sea-level rise research. Climate science is already growing, and at the center of the UAE's pivot toward climate research is a burgeoning concern for sea-level rise. Over 85% of the UAE's population and more than 90% of the nation's infrastructure is within a few meters of present-day sea-level. With its low-lying and shallow-sloping geography (about 35 cm per km), this high-value coastline, including the rapidly expanding cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Meanwhile, limited regional research and data scarcity create deep uncertainty for sea-level projections. We set out a potential roadmap for the UAE to capitalize on its strengths to create usable and relevant sea-level projections for the region. With a newly established Climate Change Research Network, the UAE government is beginning to draw together universities and research centers for "furthering effective data collection and management, and advancing policy-relevant research on climate impacts and adaptation 1 ." By consolidating ideas from the science community within the UAE, we identify promoters and barriers to data gathering, information sharing, science-policy communication, and funding access. Our paper proposes pathways forward for the UAE to integrate sea-level science with coastal development and form best practices that can be scaled across climate science and throughout the region.
... Already, the Gulf is demonstrating new appetite for communication and collaboration between the science, regulatory and policy communities for the purposes of understanding and addressing environmental challenges. For example, ecosystem-based management approaches that require integration of perspectives across these stakeholders are increasingly being employed in the region (Fanning et al., 2021;Mateos-Molina et al., 2021). By pursuing scientifically informed coastal management, the UAE can spur a dialectical approach of research and development, which will help in tackling many other challenges that require the conjoint effort of science and policy. ...
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a long-term policy horizon, the financial capital, and a vision for a sustainable knowledge-based economy. These characteristics uniquely situate it as a potential leader for sea-level rise research. Climate science is already growing, and at the center of the UAE's pivot toward climate research is a burgeoning concern for sea-level rise. Over 85% of the UAE's population and more than 90% of the nation's infrastructure is within a few meters of present-day sea-level. With its low-lying and shallow-sloping geography (about 35 cm per km), this high-value coastline, including the rapidly expanding cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Meanwhile, limited regional research and data scarcity create deep uncertainty for sea-level projections. We set out a potential roadmap for the UAE to capitalize on its strengths to create usable and relevant sea-level projections for the region. With a newly established Climate Change Research Network, the UAE government is beginning to draw together universities and research centers for "furthering effective data collection and management, and advancing policy-relevant research on climate impacts and adaptation 1 ." By consolidating ideas from the science community within the UAE, we identify promoters and barriers to data gathering, information sharing, science-policy communication, and funding access. Our paper proposes pathways forward for the UAE to integrate sea-level science with coastal development and form best practices that can be scaled across climate science and throughout the region.
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The waters of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) host a diversity of marine and coastal habitats that are under increasing pressure from multiple anthropogenic activities related to rapid economic growth. In response, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) currently cover 12% of the UAE’s coastal and marine zones. The UAE National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan aims to increase the extent of protection to 14% by 2021, a target that exceeds current global commitments. We applied systematic conservation planning to (1) assess whether conservation features (i.e. species and habitats of conservation concern) are adequately represented in the current system of MPAs, and (2) identify complementary coastal and marine priority areas for conservation and management. Eight planning scenarios were produced based on different conservation targets, the inclusion (or not) of existing MPAs in the generated solutions, and the consideration (or not) of dredging (an activity linked with coastal development in the UAE). A gap analysis demonstrated that to achieve the targets set by experts for all conservation features, additional areas would need to be integrated in conservation plans and policies. Key coastal and marine priority areas were consistently selected for conservation across all planning scenarios. The findings of this work provide a basis for the identification of conservation priorities that can be embedded in the current network of MPAs by extending their boundaries, in post-2020 conservation strategies including plans for creating new MPAs, and in broader spatial planning initiatives.
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As in the tropical Atlantic, Acropora populations in the southern Persian/Arabian Gulf plummeted within two decades after having been ecosystem engineers on most wave-exposed reefs since the Pleistocene. Since 1996/8 live coral cover in the Gulf declined by over 90% in many areas, primarily due to bleaching and diseases caused by rising temperatures. In the formerly dominant table-coral species A. downingi, population dynamics corresponding to disturbance regimes was quantified in three transition matrices (lower disturbance pre-1996; moderate disturbance from 1998-2010 and 2013-17, disturbed in 1996/8, 2010/11/12, 2017). Increased disturbance frequency and severity caused progressive reduction in coral size, cover, and population fecundity. Small size-classes were bolstered more by partial colony mortality than sexual recruitment. Some large corals had a size refuge and resisted die-back but were also lost with increasing disturbance. Matrix and biophysical larval flow models suggested one metapopulation. Southern, Arabian, populations could be connected to northern, Iranian, populations but this connectivity was lost under assumptions of pelagic larval duration at rising temperatures shortened to a third. Then, the metapopulation disintegrated into isolated populations. Connectivity required to avoid extinctions increased exponentially with disturbance frequency and correlation of disturbances across the metapopulation. Populations became unsustainable at 8 disturbances in 15 years, when even highest theoretical recruitment no longer compensated mortality. This lethal disturbance frequency was 3-fold that of the moderately-disturbed monitoring period and 4-fold of the preceding low-disturbance period – suggesting ongoing shortening of the disturbance-free period. Observed population collapse and environmental changes in the Gulf suggest that A. downingi is heading towards at least functional extinction mainly due to increasingly frequent temperature-induced mortality events, clearly linked to climate change.
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Sustainable management and conservation of the world's oceans requires effective monitoring, evaluation, and reporting (MER). Despite the growing political and social imperative for these activities, there are some persistent and emerging challenges that marine practitioners face in undertaking these activities. In 2015, a diverse group of marine practitioners came together to discuss the emerging challenges associated with marine MER, and potential solutions to address these challenges. Three emerging challenges were identified: (i) the need to incorporate environmental, social and economic dimensions in evaluation and reporting; (ii) the implications of big data, creating challenges in data management and interpretation; and (iii) dealing with uncertainty throughout MER activities. We point to key solutions to address these challenges across MER activities: (i) integrating models into marine management systems to help understand, interpret, and manage the environmental and socio-economic dimensions of uncertain and complex marine systems; (ii) utilizing big data sources and new technologies to collect, process, store, and analyze data; and (iii) applying approaches to evaluate, account for, and report on the multiple sources and types of uncertainty. These solutions point towards a potential for a new wave of evidence-based marine management, through more innovative monitoring, rigorous evaluation and transparent reporting. Effective collaboration and institutional support across the science-management-policy interface will be crucial to deal with emerging challenges, and implement the tools and approaches embedded within these solutions.
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The effective conservation of marine biodiversity through an integrated ecosystem-based management approach requires a sound knowledge of the spatial distribution of habitats and species. Although costly in terms of time and resources, acquiring such information is essential for the development of rigorous management plans and the meaningful prioritization of conservation actions. Located in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea represents a stronghold for marine biodiversity. However, conservation efforts are hampered by the apparent lack of spatial information regarding marine habitats and species. This work is the first to address this knowledge gap by assembling, updating, and mapping information on the distribution of key ecological components. A range of data sources and methodological approaches was utilized to compile and complement the available data on 68 ecological features of conservation interest (58 animal species, 6 habitat categories, and 4 other vulnerable ecological features). A standardized data evaluation procedure was applied, based on five semi-quantitative data quality indicators in the form of a pedigree matrix. This approach assessed the sufficiency of the datasets and allowed the identification of the main sources of uncertainty, highlighting aspects that require further investigation. The overall dataset was found to be sufficient in terms of reliability and spatiotemporal cohesion. However, it lacked in completeness, showing that there are still large areas of the Aegean that remain understudied, while further research is needed to elucidate the distribution patterns and conservation status of several ecological features; especially the less charismatic ones and those found in waters deeper than 40 m. Moreover, existing conservation measures appear to be inadequate to safeguard biodiversity. Only 2.3% of the study area corresponds to designated areas for conservation, while 41 of the ecological features are underrepresented in these areas. Considering the high geomorphological complexity and transnational character of the Aegean Sea, this study does not offer a complete account of the multifaceted diversity of this ecoregion. Instead, it represents a significant starting point and a solid basis for the development of systematic conservation plans that will allow the effective protection of biodiversity within an adaptive management framework.
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Conservation of threatened seabirds commonly focuses on protection of breeding areas. However, conditions at non-breeding areas also affect population dynamics, calling for a better understanding of seabird migratory ecology. In particular, it is crucial to identify the type of migration and the oceanic conditions determining non-breeding habitat selection. We studied movements of the threatened Socotra cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis breeding at Siniya Island, United Arab Emirates (UAE) (35% of the world population), using platform transmitter terminals (PTTs) deployed on adults during the 2013 and 2014 breeding seasons. Concomitantly, we used remotely-sensed chlorophyll a concentration data (CHL) of areas visited by birds in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman regions (2002 to 2016 monthly averages), as an index of primary productivity. The migratory pattern of the Socotra cormorant was non-dispersive, fitting with the gregarious habits and group foraging mode of this forage fish specialist. Birds performed a short westward directional migration to islands off western UAE, then moved eastwards to the Strait of Hormuz before returning to Siniya Island. Birds concentrated at a few localities, which therefore represent areas of high conservation priority. During breeding, CHL around the colony was high. During non-breeding, however, CHL around non-breeding areas was low, even though more productive waters were present within foraging range. The mismatch between the non-breeding phase and CHL could be linked to spatial and temporal lags in responses of secondary and tertiary consumers to primary productivity. Effective conservation will necessitate a better understanding of the ecology and distribution of forage fish within the Gulf.
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Coral reefs are threatened by climate change as coral-algal symbioses are currently living close to their upper thermal limits. The resilience of the algal partner plays a key role in determining the thermal tolerance of the coral holobiont and therefore, understanding the acclimatory limits of present day coral-algal symbioses is fundamental to forecasting corals’ responses to climate change. This study characterised the symbiont community in a highly variable and thermally extreme (Max = 37.5 °C, Min = 16.8 °C) lagoon located in the southern Persian/Arabian Gulf using next generation sequencing of ITS2 amplicons. Despite experiencing extreme temperatures, severe bleaching and many factors that would be expected to promote the presence of, or transition to clade D dominance, the symbiont communities of the lagoon remain dominated by the C3 variant, Symbiodinium thermophilum. The stability of this symbiosis across multiple genera with different means of symbiont transmission highlights the importance of Symbiodinium thermophilum for corals living at the acclimatory limits of modern day corals. Corals in this extreme environment did not undergo adaptive bleaching, suggesting they are living at the edge of their acclimatory potential and that this valuable source of thermally tolerant genotypes may be lost in the near future under climate change.
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Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) monitoring was undertaken in the United Arab Emirates from 2003 to 2015 at 36 permanent sites to find key wintering and breeding sites. Bul Syayeef Marine Protected Area with monthly mean of 6553 (±3594) flamingos followed by Al Wathba Wetland Reserve with 1228 (±1190) flamingos topped the list. In addition, Shahama Wetland and Al Aryam Mudflats in Abu Dhabi Emirate form a complex of four nearby sites that hold the majority of nearly 15,000–20,000 birds wintering in the country. Lagoons (Khors) in the northern emirates are the other key wintering sites, that suffer habitat destruction and high disturbance. Breeding has been sporadic and infrequent since the first breeding attempt in 1993. Greater Flamingos have bred successfully only in the Abu Dhabi Emirate on 10 occasions at three sites with the highest eight breeding attempts at Al Wathba and one each at Shahama and Bul Syayeef. A total of 1,972 young have fledged with a high overall breeding success of 43%. The highest number of 801 young fledged at Bul Syayeef in 2009 followed by 420 at Al Wathba in 2015 and 350 at Shahama in 2007. Successful breeding occurred both in summer and winter seasons, breeding attempts were more (58%) in summer compared to winter. Flamingos have bred regularly at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve since 2011, this was made possible due to the provision of an artificial island to aid nesting and better control of predators. Breeding is successful at sites that maintain higher bird numbers and are free from disturbance.
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Ecosystem services such as protection from storms and erosion, tourism benefits, and climate adaptation and mitigation have been increasingly recognized as important considerations for environmental policymaking. Recent research has shown that coastal ecosystems such as seagrasses, salt marshes, and mangroves provide climate mitigation services because they are particularly effective at sequestering and storing carbon dioxide, referred to as “coastal blue carbon”. Unfortunately, degradation of blue carbon ecosystems due to anthropogenic impacts contributes to anthropogenic carbon emissions from land use impacts and prevents these ecosystems from continuing to sequester and store carbon. Given the impressive carbon sequestration and storage in coastal ecosystems, many countries with blue carbon resources are beginning to implement blue carbon restoration projects using carbon financing mechanisms. This study analyzed four case studies of projects in Kenya, India, Vietnam, and Madagascar, evaluating the individual carbon financing mechanisms, the project outcomes, and the policy implications of each. Strengths and challenges of implementing blue carbon projects are discussed and considerations that all projects should address are examined in order to develop long-term sustainable climate mitigation or adaptation policies. This analysis can help to inform future project design considerations as well as policy opportunities.
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The development of targets is foundational in conservation. Although progress has been made in setting targets, the diverse linkages among ecological and social components make target setting for coupled social-ecological systems extremely challenging. Developing integrated social-ecological targets is difficult because it forces policy makers to consider how management actions propagate throughout social-ecological systems, and because ultimately it is society, not scientists, that defines targets. We developed an interdisciplinary approach for identifying management targets and illustrate this approach using an example motivated by Puget Sound, USA. Our approach blends ecological modeling with empirical social science to articulate trade-offs and reveal societal preferences for different social-ecological states. The framework aims to place information in the hands of decision makers and promote discussion in the appropriate forums. Our ultimate objective is to encourage the informed participation of citizens in the development of social-ecological targets that reflect their values while also protecting key ecosystem attributes. © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.
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Knowledge of the interrelationships between habitats and life-stage development in marine turtles requires an understanding of recruitment, size and age at maturity, sex ratios, growth and sexual development rates, survivorship and nesting probabilities. These data may be used to determine the status and survival of turtle populations during earlier life stages and for the development of appropriate conservation strategies. We sampled in-water stocks of marine turtles in coastal waters of Qatar using rodeo-style captures, entrapments in an industrial cooling intake and opportunistic bycatch to determine species, size, gender and age class. Our results revealed that Qatar is home to a resident population of small juvenile green turtles (< 40 cm curved carapace length, CCL) and a transient population of juvenile hawksbills (< 25 cm CCL) at an approximate 7:3 ratio of green to hawksbill turtles. Hawksbills were male-biased (4M:1F) while green turtles were slightly female biased (2M:3F). Given the extreme high ambient and water temperatures in the Arabian Gulf, which may be considered a living laboratory for understanding climate change effects on marine species, our results are not conclusive that elevated temperatures have led to feminisation of marine turtle populations. We instead believe that there may be a regional and/or evolutionary shift in the pivotal temperature that regulates ecologically appropriate sex determination, which requires further investigation. Our data provide, for the first time, a description of the foraging marine turtle population structure in Qatari waters, and point to a need for protection of seagrass beds, effective mitigation measures for sedimentation from coastal development and rehabilitation of coral-reef habitats.
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Restoration of degraded ecosystems is an important societal goal, yet inadequate monitoring and the absence of clear performance metrics are common criticisms of many habitat restoration projects. Funding limitations can prevent adequate monitoring, but we suggest that the lack of accepted metrics to address the diversity of restoration objectives also presents a serious challenge to the monitoring of restoration projects. A working group with experience in designing and monitoring oyster reef projects was used to develop standardized monitoring metrics, units, and performance criteria that would allow for comparison among restoration sites and projects of various construction types. A set of four universal metrics (reef areal dimensions, reef height, oyster density, and oyster size–frequency distribution) and a set of three universal environmental variables (water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen) are recommended to be monitored for all oyster habitat restoration projects regardless of their goal(s). In addition, restoration goal-based metrics specific to four commonly cited ecosystem service-based restoration goals are recommended, along with an optional set of seven supplemental ancillary metrics that could provide information useful to the interpretation of prerestoration and postrestoration monitoring data. Widespread adoption of a common set of metrics with standardized techniques and units to assess well-defined goals not only allows practitioners to gauge the performance of their own projects but also allows for comparison among projects, which is both essential to the advancement of the field of oyster restoration and can provide new knowledge about the structure and ecological function of oyster reef ecosystems.
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The Sooty Falcon (Falco concolor), a migrant breeder in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been recorded breeding only from the Abu Dhabi Emirate. EAD undertook an extensive survey in 2007 to document their current status. A total of 22 sites (19 island sites and 3 coastal sites) were surveyed in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. Surveys were conducted three times during the breeding season, at the start, in the middle, with the last survey towards the end of the breeding season. Out of the 21 sites surveyed, Sooty Falcons were recorded from 7 sites and breeding was observed at only 5 sites. The 5 breeding pairs recorded in 2007 represent a decline of 64% compared to the 14-25 pairs that were estimated in 1996. Because all the breeding Sooty Falcons are found in Abu Dhabi, long-term conservation of Sooty Falcons in the UAE depends upon conservation actions taken in Abu Dhabi. Monitoring and ecological studies are essential for the long-term conservation of the Sooty Falcons in the United Arab Emirates.
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Annual coral mortality events due to increased atmospheric heat may occur regularly from the middle of the century and are considered apocalyptic for coral reefs. In the Arabian/Persian Gulf, this situation has already occurred and population dynamics of four widespread corals (Acropora downingi, Porites harrisoni, Dipsastrea pallida, Cyphastrea micropthalma) were examined across the first-ever occurrence of four back-to-back mass mortality events (2009 - 2012). Mortality was driven by diseases in 2009, bleaching and subsequent diseases in 2010/11/12. 2009 reduced P. harrisoni cover and size, the other events increasingly reduced overall cover (2009: -10%, 2010: -20%, 2011: -20%, 2012: -15%) and affected all examined species. Regeneration was only observed after the first disturbance. P. harrisoni and A. downingi severely declined from 2010 due to bleaching and subsequent white syndromes, while D. pallida and P. daedalea declined from 2011 due to bleaching and black-band disease. C. microphthalma cover was not affected. In all species, most large corals were lost while fission due to partial tissue mortality bolstered small size classes. This general shrinkage led to a decrease of coral cover and a dramatic reduction of fecundity. Transition matrices for disturbed and undisturbed conditions were evaluated as Life Table Response Experiment, and showed that C.microphthalma changed the least in size-class-dynamics and fecundity, suggesting they were "winners". In an ordered "degradation cascade", impacts decreased from the most common to the least common species, leading to step-wise removal of previously dominant species. A potentially permanent shift from high- to low-coral cover with different coral community and size structure can be expected due to the demographic dynamics resultant from the disturbances. Similarities to degradation of other Caribbean and Pacific reefs are discussed. Since comparable environmental conditions and mortality patterns must be expected worldwide, demographic collapse of many other coral populations may soon be widespread. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Coastal urbanization has expanded rapidly in recent decades in the Arabian Gulf and this has put increasing pressure on important but underappreciated coastal ecosystems throughout the region. Unlike the relatively barren terrestrial system, coastlines in the Gulf contain a mosaic of highly productive ecosystems, including sabkhas, mudflats, mangrove swamps, seagrasses and coral reefs, among others, that provide food and habitat for diverse ecological communities and support over half a billion dollars in fisheries activities annually. In recent years there has been accelerating loss and degradation of each of these systems as a result of cumulative impacts from coastal development, overfishing, industrial expansion and other population-driven stressors, and the Arabian Gulf is now considered among the most degraded marine eco-regions in the world. The future of this unique and valuable system is now at stake, and only with rapid and dramatic changes in coastal policy, regulation and management can we hope to stem the decline of coastal ecosystems in the Gulf. The highly centralized decision-making framework characteristic of governance in this region should be seen as an advantage in this regard. Improved awareness of the economic, societal and ecological value of the coastal ecosystem among leaders could result in rapid changes in policy direction and financial support for coastal management, resulting in more environmentally sustainable urban development on the Gulf's coasts.
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Mangroves are the dominant coastal vegetation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), occupying one of the driest mangrove habitats in the world. However, published estimates of mangroves do not represent current conditions for the country as a whole. This study provides an up-to-date estimate of UAE's mangroves, summarizing their habitat characteristics, stand heights, and pore-water conditions. Estimates of mangrove cover are based upon remote sensing, aerial photointerpretation, and field verification. Our results document more mangroves than previously estimated for Abu Dhabi and the nation altogether. Mapped areas were classified into three descriptive density cover classes to facilitate interpretation of the data: low (,10%), moderate (10–75%), and high (.75%). The high-density class reflects prior national estimates for mangrove coverage (roughly 3613 ha), while moderate-and low-density classes contributed an additional 5659 ha and 4344 ha (respectively) to the national total. The largest contiguous mangrove area was 710 ha, while the smallest mapped area was 0.03 ha. Mapped mangrove habitat types included fringe, basin, and overwash, with average heights of 3.36 6 0.25 m and density of 61.83% 6 5.01%. Stand height and pore-water sulfide concentrations were significantly different between habitat types, while stand density, pore-water salinity, and redox potential were highly variable. In sum, approximately 13,616 ha of mangrove area was mapped, roughly three times more than prior estimates. This is the first study in recent years to document the full areal extent of mangroves and associated stand characteristics across the seven emirates. ADDITIONAL INDEX WORDS: Arabian Peninsula, Avicennia marina, halophytes, coastal resource mapping, geographic information system (GIS), management.
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The eight countries surrounding the Gulf (referred to as both the Persian and Arabian Gulf) - Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates - share a valuable marine ecosystem that now risks becoming seriously degraded by a number of anthropogenic impacts. Some of the most rapidly developing countries in the world are found here, and nearly all development is confined to coastal fringes. In many cases, there has not been enough time to develop adequate regulatory, technical, and monitoring capacity necessary to guide this growth appropriately. The Gulf’s unique but fragile marine and coastal ecosystems provide valuable services including fishery resources, tourism assets, and oil reserves. Overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and inappropriate coastal development are placing increasing pressure on these ecosystems at a time when climate change is increasing the physical stresses it already endures. This policy report highlights the greatest environmental threats facing the Gulf and offers advice to managers and decision makers on how to avoid or mitigate the impacts of coastal development and improve environmental management. The Gulf is a well-delineated body of water in a region with considerable sovereign wealth. There is an opportunity for one or more Gulf nations to provide leadership to build a ‘made-in-the-Gulf-region’ solution. Although this report is specific to this region, rapid development and population growth are causing similar problems along shorelines in other parts of the world. We believe that this document will serve to inform decision makers across and beyond the Gulf.
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We present the first data on hawksbill turtle post-nesting migrations and behaviour in the Arabian region. Tracks from 90 post-nesting turtles (65 in the Gulf and 25 from Oman) revealed that hawksbills in the Arabian region may nest up to 6 times in a season with an average of 3 nests per turtle. Turtles from Qatar, Iran and the UAE generally migrated south and southwest to waters shared by the UAE and Qatar. A smaller number of turtles migrated northward towards Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and one reached Kuwait. Omani turtles migrated south towards Masirah island and to Quwayrah, staying close to the mainland and over the continental shelf. The widespread dispersal of hawksbill foraging grounds across the SW Gulf may limit habitat protection options available to managers, and we suggest these be linked to preservation of shallow water habitats and fishery management. In contrast, the two main foraging areas in Oman were small and could be candidates for protected area consideration. Critical migration bottlenecks were identified at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula as turtles from Daymaniyat Islands migrate southward, and between Qatar and Bahrain. Overall, Gulf turtles spent 68% of the time in foraging ground with home ranges of 40–60 km2 and small core areas of 6 km2. Adult female turtles from Oman were significantly larger than Gulf turtles by ~ 11 cm x¯=81.4CCL and spent 83% of their time foraging in smaller home ranges with even smaller core areas (~ 3 km2), likely due to better habitat quality and food availability. Gulf turtles were among the smallest in the world x¯=70.3CCL and spent an average of 20% of time undertaking summer migration loops, a thermoregulatory response to avoid elevated sea surface temperatures, as the Gulf regularly experiences sustained sea surface temperatures > 30 °C. Fishery bycatch was determined for two of the 90 turtles. These spatio-temporal findings on habitat use will enable risk assessments for turtles in the face of multiple threats including oil and gas industries, urban and industrial development, fishery pressure, and shipping. They also improve our overall understanding of hawksbill habitat use and behaviour in the Arabian region, and will support sea turtle conservation-related policy decision-making at national and regional levels.
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We studied the nesting and distribution of the Crab Plover, Dromas ardeola, in the United Arab Emirates through regular monitoring of colonies during the breeding season and counts at other key waterbird sites throughout the country during the non-breeding season. Based on counts of active nests, we estimate 1400–1500 breeding pairs of Crab Plovers in the United Arab Emirates at the two active colonies, accounting for over 30% of the Arabian breeding population. Discovery of a newly formed colony in 2004 and abandonment of the old colony on Abu Al Abyad demonstrate the potential of expansion of colonies in other areas. With breeding confirmed at only two islands in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, from a conservation perspective this species is one of the most important breeding birds in the United Arab Emirates. Outside the breeding season, Crab Plovers congregate at few coastal sites in the country. Long-term conservation of Crab Plovers in the Emirates depends on the continued protection of the few breeding sites and urgent protection of the key sites used outside the breeding season.
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An up-to-date review of the current state of the marine environment and ecosystems in the Persian/Arabian Gulf, threats to these systems, and management efforts currently in place. Please contact us for full-text access. CHAPTER OUTLINE: 1.1 The Region 1 1.2 Natural Environmental Variables and Seasonality 3 1.3 Major Coastal and Shallow Habitats 5 1.4 Offshore Systems 10 1.5 Climate Change Impacts 11 1.6 Resources 12 1.7 Human Populations Affecting the Area 13 1.8 Management 17 1.9 Summary 17 References 18 Further Reading 23
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Chapter
The coastal barrier and related lagoonal and intertidal flat systems in NE Abu Dhabi are composed of relatively pure carbonate sediments. Although this complex includes a great variety of micro-environments and sediment types, these may be grouped into seven principal units: nearshore shelf, frontal reef, tidal deltas, frontal (barrier) beaches and dunes, lagoonal channels, lagoonal terraces, and intertidal flats. The principal faunal and floral components of each unit are discussed and listed in distribution tables, careful distinction being made between living and dead assemblages. The character and sedimentary composition of this coastal complex has evolved mainly as the consequence of rapid carbonate production and onshore transport of these sediments. Cementation in the shallow subtidal and intertidal environments has produced extensive, diachronous crusts of Holocene limestone, while the hot, arid climate has stimulated the formation of dolomite and other evaporite minerals within the coastal sabkha. Most of these sedimentary and diagenetic features would permit the recognition of similar environments in ancient rocks.