The marine environment of the UAE is rich in fish, plant, animal and bird life. Over 500 different fish species alone inhabit the Gulf waters, with many more existing in the Indian Ocean. Beautiful coral reefs can still be found but the once famous Arabian pearl is becoming a rarity.
Endangered species include the dugong or 'sea cow' a shy creature with few enemies except man. It is estimated that less than 100,000 exist world wide. The Arabian Gulf is home to the second largest population of 4,000 and the UAE's waters may be home to between 500 - 1,000 of these. The next 15 years will be critical for the survival of the dugong. Fishing nets, dredging and oil pollution are the main hazards plus the destruction of the sea grass beds where they feed. Arabian Seas Expedition (ASE), a Dubai based project was involved in satellite tagging attempts of the dugong providing vital information about this reclusive mammal. Sadly, bad weather and insufficient funds meant they could not complete their research.
Whilst fishing is very much part of local tradition, dolphins and whales are often caught in nets. Although the UAE has banned the use of mono-filament nets which cause the most damage, these are still being used and can be found in every fishing village. You may be surprised that the UAE waters host over one third of the world's 80 species of whales and dolphins.
You can help by reporting sightings of any dugongs, dolphins or whales, whether dead or alive, to the Federal Environmental Agency or the Emirates Diving Association. This assists scientists in their quest to learn more about these creatures and to monitor schools and numbers.
Four, possibly five of the world's seven species of turtle live in our waters - the Green, the Leatherback, the Loggerhead, the Hawksbill and perhaps the Olive Ridley Turtle. All are listed as endangered species. In the sea, turtles face the same man made problems as the dugong. Although fishing of turtles is banned, large numbers of Green and Hawksbill are caught each year. Conservation of the sea grass beds, the food source for both the dugong and turtle, is vital for their survival. On land, the collection of eggs from nesting sites continues, although as with the capture of live turtles, this is also officially banned.
Baby sharks are killed in local waters for their fins - they play a vital role as a main predator in balancing the marine ecosystem.
Coral reefs and mangrove creeks are home to hundreds of marine creatures. These areas are important fish breeding grounds and feeding areas plus they also protect the shores from coastal erosion. Damage is caused by rubbish and debris, fishing nets, anchors plus uninformed swimmers. Coral is easily damaged by touch and can take decades to re-grow. Fujairah Emirate has banned the collection of coral. There are three protected marine parks on the East Coast. You may notice the signs. Fishing is also prohibited.
On the positive side, ASE has been monitoring the offshore oilfields which have created marine sanctuaries acting as artificial reefs providing habitats for the varied marine life. This is important for marine conservation since offshore oilfields here are amongst the largest in the world.