19 February 2009

Coral growing near Dubai's The Palm?

Marine scientists said "early data is promising - new coral is growing on the windward outer reaches of breakwaters erected around Nakheel’s Palm Trilogy and The World."This is the only photo provided with recent media reports. Spot any large cnidarians in it?Accepting that such mega projects will become more common, the researchers said “it’s more important that we are able to manage it and mitigate the changes…The fact is we’re not doing a good job of management.”

The study has important political implications for the future of artificial marine structures. If it is proven that productive communities can thrive around such structures, opposition to such projects in other emirates and countries will be weakened.

A UAE-based marine scientist has called for caution. “This is not a straightforward issue,” said the researcher and policymaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he works for a government department. “Breakwaters will increase the possibility of erosion and bring sediment,” he said. Sediment will impede the growth of corals. “There are two schools of thought on artificial structures. Some scientists think fish come to that area not because the number of fish has increased but because other habitats have been destroyed.”

A marine scientist who is familiar with the area and also spoke on the condition of anonymity said that while some species would fare better, others would be jeopardised. “What about other species such as green turtles that are dying?” he said.

The Palm Jebel Ali is being built in a formerly protected area, the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary. The area was given legal protection in 1998 on the grounds that it housed one of the Gulf’s richest marine ecosystems, with 34 coral species and 77 species of reef fish.

Coral growing near Dubai's The Palm, say scientists
Derek Baldwin, Xpress News 17 Feb 09;

The jury is still out on whether Dubai’s offshore reclamation projects are a sound ecological addition to the Gulf, say world experts studying new artificial reefs at the mega-billion dollar developments.

However, in interviews on Tuesday near the trunk of the Jebel Ali Palm, marine scientists said early data is promising - new coral is growing on the windward outer reaches of breakwaters erected around Nakheel’s Palm Trilogy and The World.

The comments from experts with the United Nations University International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) came as a two-day coastal monitoring workshop wrapped up in Dubai.

United Nations experts and Nakheel have teamed up in a partnership formed in 2007 to monitor the effects of mega reclamation on the environment.

“I think in 20 years you will have a rocky reef with some very large fish living on it,” said Dr. Peter Sale, Assistant Director of UNU-INWEG, in an interview, “hammour, the very big ones particularly, if protective fishing is put in place.”

Since a Nakheel-supported team of 11 scientists started collecting on-site data from dredged artificial reefs off Dubai shores in mid-2008, Sale said as many as 100 species of fish and 15 to 20 species of coral have been observed on site.

New colonies of phytoplankton, oysters, and invertebrates are also establishing their presence on the stepped-underwater foundations of the Nakheel breakwaters, he said.

The “richness of fish and coral is greater on the breakwaters than it is on the natural reefs,” said Sale, a 40-year Canadian marine ecologist.

The breakwaters protrude above the sandy Gulf bottom providing a solid substrate for new aquatic life, he said.

Studying the new manmade reclamation projects will be important, Sale said, for a world that has been modifying its earthly terrain for 8,000 years and is only relatively of late beginning to create new marine-based environments such as the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deira and Palm Jebel Ali.

Accepting that such mega projects will become more common, Sale said “it’s more important that we are able to manage it and mitigate the changes…The fact is we’re not doing a good job of management.”

Fellow Canadian and marine biologist Dr. Ken Drouillard said “there is still a cautionary tale how these systems are managed in the future.”

Drouillard is head of the Organic Analytical Laboratory of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, Canada.

He said he was aware of problems arising out of manmade structures that by their sheer size and presence interfere with the natural ebb and flow of the water around them.

European studies, for example, have revealed that manmade structures off Dubai have greatly changed wave patterns and, accordingly, shoreline erosion along the emirate’s 70 kilometres of natural coastline.

The addition of manmade islands has created more than 1,000 kilometres of new coastline for Dubai developers.

Other studies have suggested that calm waters inside the Nakheel breakwaters are not subjected to rigorous natural wave movement and could lead to muddy like beaches and stagnating waters within the frond extensions from the palm design.

“There are several key issues that could arise,” Drouillard said, adding the team is concerned about the “lagoon” effect of calm water.

But Drouillard said that Nakheel has pursued efforts “to maximise water flow” to keep protected waters inside the breakwaters suitable for marine life. Large gaps have been punched in the circular seawalls at strategic points to allow water to flow through but not disturb the tranquility of the Palm settings.

Keeping protected waters safe from anoxia – oxygen depletion – is paramount, he said.

“You can get fish kills. There are a whole host of problems that require proactive monitoring,” he said.

Human residents of the offshore areas, as well, want to live in healthy sea conditions free of odour and stagnation issues, Drouillard said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Nakheel said that it has high hopes for the monitoring team and study results noting the effort could help find “methods for optimising circulation in lagoon areas” and “advice for improved reclamation design”.

The research programme continues to take comparison marine samples in “the southern Gulf and those developing around the Nakheel projects”, Nakheel said, “enabling an accurate assessment of the value of the marine environment that the Nakheel projects represent.”

The partnership

The UNU-INWEH and Nakheel partnership formed in January 2007 has several aims:

* Create a coastal monitoring program of Nakheel’s coastal communities
* Technical seminars to share new developments on coastal management practices
* Work with regional governments, NGOs and universities
* A new marine biological laboratory – EHS-Trakhees, opened in March 2008 -- with Dubai World

Source: Nakheel
Marine life returns to Dubai's the Palm
Vesela Todorova, The National 18 Feb 09;
DUBAI // UN scientists say that although the waters off Dubai’s coast will never again be what they once were, the Palm Jumeirah offshore structure is creating a new complex marine ecosystem despite years of disruptive construction work.

The United Nations University’s International Network on Water, Environment and Health, commissioned by the Palm developer Nakheel, compiled a report on the effects of the project.

They concluded that marine life is slowly returning to the coastline.

“They are developing into very interesting rocky reefs,” said the chief scientist behind the research, Dr Peter Sale, a marine ecologist.

Dr Sale is the assistant director of the United Nations University network, which has worked with Nakheel since early 2007. The goal of the collaboration is for the scientists to pursue a long-term environmental monitoring programme and a sustainable management plan for the waters surrounding Nakheel’s man-made islands.

Nakheel’s decision to build a series of structures along Dubai’s coastline has drawn criticism from conservationists opposed to the environmental cost of the projects, such as large-scale destruction of coral reefs and changes in water flows.

The Palm Jebel Ali, for example, is being built in a formerly protected area, the Jebel Ali Marine Sanctuary. The area was given legal protection in 1998 on the grounds that it housed one of the Gulf’s richest marine ecosystems, with 34 coral species and 77 species of reef fish. To mitigate the damage it has caused, Nakheel financed a scheme under which the Emirates Marine Environment Group, an NGO, transplanted corals elsewhere.

Despite initial positive results, the long-term benefits are still unknown.

Yesterday, the UN scientists acknowledged that the ecosystem that existed off Dubai’s coast has been lost forever.

“There are certainly going to be differences,” said Dr Ken Drouillard, associate professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor, Canada, who participated in the study.

“Much more complex habitat characteristics were present in the past.”

Dr Sale said about 100 species of fish and 20 coral species have been recorded in the areas around the outward side of the breakwaters of the Palm Jumeirah.

“In 20 years’ time you will have a more interesting marine environment than you had before,” he said.

“There will be many conservationists who will disagree with me.”

But as population growth intensifies the pressure to build, conservationists will have to let go of “the idea that the world is going to be one big protected area that we do not disturb”.

“You will have to get rid of the people,” he said of the alternative.

The United Nations University study has important political implications for the future of artificial marine structures. If it is proven that productive communities can thrive around such structures, opposition to such projects in other emirates and countries will be weakened.

It is precisely because of these far-reaching implications that a UAE-based marine scientist has called for caution.

“This is not a straightforward issue,” said the researcher and policymaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he works for a government department.

“Breakwaters will increase the possibility of erosion and bring sediment,” he said. Sediment will impede the growth of corals.

“There are two schools of thought on artificial structures. Some scientists think fish come to that area not because the number of fish has increased but because other habitats have been destroyed.”

A marine scientist who is familiar with the area and also spoke on the condition of anonymity said that while some species would fare better, others would be jeopardised. “What about other species such as green turtles that are dying?” he said.

Pollution, development and climate change are threatening the future of many ocean ecosystems. Stemming Decline of the Coastal Ocean (PDF), which Dr Sale compiled, says that by 2050, 91 per cent of the world’s coastlines will have been affected by development, much of it poorly planned.

“Shorelines are hardened, channels and harbours are dredged, spoil is dumped, and submerged and emergent land is moved. Patterns of water flow are modified, and pathways used by organisms in their movements from nursery to adult habitats and spawning sites may also be modified or blocked,” the report says. Businesses and governments can sometimes form “powerful allies in favour of coastal development even when it is environmentally and socially unsustainable”.

Dr Sale said that while it is legitimate for the report to be critical “because there have been lots of bad practices in many places”, the projects Nakheel have built and are building “are not impossible to manage sustainably”.

Dr Drouillard said some of the challenges to the project stem from the lagoon’s environment, with reduced wave action that which can promote algal blooms. The scientists have also identified sites where organic carbon is prone to depositing, causing a lack of oxygen in the water and resulting in fish kills.

Other pressures will appear as more and more people populate the islands. Preventing these problems from occurring will require “proactive monitoring” and a sustainable management plan, Dr Drouillard said.

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