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Persian Gulf: The Cost of Coastal Development to Reefs

Provided by David Medio, The Halcrow Group Ltd.

Coral reefs in the Persian Gulf are part of a unique and highly complex system of intertidal and sub-tidal habitats. They live in the warmest and most saline waters on Earth and may represent a unique living laboratory to understand the impacts of climate change and the potential for adaptation among reefs globally.

However, these reefs are increasingly threatened by coastal and offshore development, which has caused a serious decline in associated habitats, species, and overall ecosystem function in the region. The financial windfall from the oil and gas boom has funded large-scale offshore and coastal developments such as the Dubai Palms, the Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi, and the proposed Qatar-Bahrain causeway. All such efforts require large-scale dredging, infilling, coastal modifications, and artificial waterways, with no small consequences for natural ecosystems.

The rate at which this development has affected reefs is unprecedented.12 Hundreds of hectares of marine habitat have been built over or otherwise affected in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.3 Permanent loss of intertidal and shallow sub-tidal nursery grounds has caused declining fish and shellfish catches in many Gulf areas.4 Coral cover in Bahrain has dropped from at least 50 percent in the 1980s to nearly zero percent.5

The key to stemming the decline in ecosystem health from overdevelopment lies squarely in the hands of more regional-level coordination and a longer-term, holistic outlook for the Gulf. This includes greater interaction amongst project managers, regulators, and master planners; improved information sharing between government departments; increased stakeholder and public engagement; and a Gulf-wide approach to environmental planning. These measures will help to ensure both the ecological and economic sustainability of the Gulf into the future.

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  1. Sheppard, C. et al. The Gulf: A Young Sea in Decline. Marine Pollution Bulletin 60, 13-38 (2010). 

  2. Wilkinson, C. Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008. (Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, 2008). 

  3. Purkis, S. J., Riegl, B. Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Arabian Gulf Coral Assemblages Quantified from Remote-Sensing and in Situ Monitoring Data. Marine Ecology Progress Series 287, 99–113. 

  4. Bishop, J. M. Fishing and Mariculture in The Gulf Ecosystem: Health and Sustainability (eds Andrew Price, M. Munawar, and N. Y. Khan) 253–278 (2002). 

  5. Zainal, K. The Cumulative Impacts of Reclamation and Dredging Activities. Report for ROPME. (Kuwait, 2009). 

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