© Jürgen Freund / WWF

Coral Reefs Investigations in Abu Dhabi and Eastern Qatar

  • Period: July 1, 2004 -July 31, 2008
This project highlights the importance and priority of conserving and protecting the unique and most threatened coral reef habitats in the Gulf in the Middle East.

The aim of the project was to assist relevant regional governments and non-government agencies in the development and implementation of a comprehensive conservation strategy for coral reefs in the Gulf that takes into account the specificity of the habitat and its importance for the local community and biodiversity.

It also aimed to increase regional awareness of the importance and uniqueness of coral reef habitats for the region. The project included the development of published materials on coral reefs habitat, distribution and identification in the region.

Coral reefs are amongst the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the world. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, coral reefs and their associated mangrove and sea grass habitats play important ecological, economic, recreational and cultural roles. These habitats provide food and shelter for numerous fish and marine species, protect coastal areas from storm surge, prevent coastal erosion and support commercial fishing and an array of recreational activities.

The health of coral reefs has continued to decline throughout the tropical and subtropical world where these habitats occur. According to Wilkinson (2000), 27% of the world's coral reefs are already degraded and probably lost.

The Gulf appears to be one of the areas which is most severely affected. According to recent estimates, up to 35% of the coral reefs may have been lost (Wilkinson 2000). Extreme temperatures are believed to be the single most important cause of coral reef decline and loss in the region.

This observation is corroborated by several marine biologists who have worked in this region. George and John (1998, 1999) and John and George (1998), suggested that extremely high sea water temperatures observed during 1996 and 1998 were primarily responsible for the coral bleaching and subsequent mass mortality of coral in the area.

Others observed that coral reefs in the Gulf region were subjected to large fluctuations in temperatures and very high salinity levels. These observations are supported by results obtained by the ocean climate programme of the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency’s Marine Environmental Research Center. Surface seawater temperatures in Abu Dhabi coastal waters ranged from 20.6°C in winter to 35°C in summer, while salinity levels averaged between 400/00 and 450/00.

Other threats to coral reefs in the area include attacks by the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) and anthropogenic stresses including oil pollution, poor land use practices and impacts from commercial and recreational fishing and diving. Indeed, it has been suggested that with the expected increase in fishing effort in the area, threats to the coral reefs and associated habitats will become more serious in the future.

There is growing evidence suggesting that the recovery of degraded coral reefs may be dependent up on reduction of human pressures on these habitats. Reduction of human disturbances can only be realized through adoption of sound conservation and management measures for these ecosystems.


  1. Inventory and map the coral reefs and associated habitats off the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
  2. Investigate the diversity and conditions of representative coral reef habitats.
  3. Assess the status of reef fish and benthic life forms at representative coral reef habitats to establish a baseline for long-term monitoring.
  4. Assess the potential for recovery and evaluate alternative approaches to rehabilitation of the coral reef habitats in the Emirate.
  5. Develop a framework and build capacity of national research personnel for long-term monitoring of the region's coral reefs.
  6. Propose a conservation and management regime for the coral reef habitats off the UAE and Qatar.
  7. Increase awareness of the various stakeholders on the uniqueness and values of coral reefs in the Gulf.
A critical step in developing effective conservation and management of coral reefs in the area is the provision of information on the distribution, abundance, composition and health of these reefs. Existing information on coral reefs in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Qatar is scant and mostly covers near-shore areas close to Abu Dhabi.

Several experts on coral reefs indicated that most of the coral reefs in the region are located offshore. This suggests that many reef habitats in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Qatar have not yet been studied and remain uncharted.

The study proposes to map and assess the status of coral reefs and associated habitats in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Qatar as a critical first step towards developing a comprehensive programme for the conservation and management of these vital resources.

The ultimate outputs of this project were:

  1. Comprehensive report and map on the distribution, status and threats on coral reefs between Eastern Qatar and Abu Dhabi
  2. Publication of management plan for coral reefs for Abu Dhabi and Eastern Qatar
  3. Increased capacity of local researchers and managers in Abu Dhabi and Eastern Qatar
  4. Increased awareness on coral reef conservation issues
  5. First documentary film on the coral reefs of the southeastern Gulf produced

Project Sponsor

    • Dolphin Energy