April 13, 2012
NYU Abu Dhabi assistant professor of biology John Burt recently co-authored a report from the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, calling for Gulf countries to work together to regulate and monitor the impact on the Arabian Gulf coastline in order to mitigate adverse effects on the local marine environment.
Burt was a member of the team of researchers who produced the policy report, “Managing the growing impacts of development on fragile coastal and marine ecosystems: Lessons from the Gulf,” which recognizes similar challenges faced by countries with coastlines across the Arabian Gulf.
The scale of economic growth in the region, and the significant development along the coastlines of many Gulf countries, has put unprecedented pressure on coastal ecosystems. According to research, this has contributed to considerable degradation of natural habitats, including mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and marine life. The report cites that a number of economic growth-related factors such as coastal development and dredging, water pollution, climate change, poor enforcement of fishing regulations, and introduction of non-native invasive species into the local marine environment, have contributed to this alteration of the Gulf’s natural marine environment.
This alteration is not exclusively negative; the report also notes that coastal mega-projects have resulted in new marine environments with different species that had not previously been observed in the Gulf. Project breakwaters have been observed to serve as artificial reefs, with marine life and growth rates comparable to natural reefs.
“Across every major coastline in the Gulf there has been heavy modification of the coastal environment due to development,” Burt says. “The report makes recommendations on how proactive, science-driven marine management could mitigate some of the negative impacts that arise from that development. There needs to be a balance between meeting the needs of a developing economy and managing the impact on the marine environment.”
The report proposes that taking steps such as improved waste management planning, pollution prevention, and the establishment of marine-protected areas are strategies that can help reduce the impact on coastal environments. Stronger policy frameworks and enforcement are also critical steps in safeguarding the Gulf’s marine environment but, the report notes, these will only be effectual if there is regional cooperation in the effort.