6 Marine Protected Areas in Abu Dhabi

6 Marine Protected Areas in Abu Dhabi

Did you know that the United Arab Emirates is home to the world’s second-largest population of dugongs (i.e., Dugong dugon), next only to Australia, which has the biggest dugong population globally.

Most of the 3,000 dugongs in the UAE can be found in Abu Dhabi. In fact, Bu Tinah in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve (MMBR) north of Al Mirfa has the highest dugong population density in the world.

Dugongs are a vulnerable species, but they thrive in the UAE due to the country’s marine life conservation efforts and initiatives. The UAE is one of the world’s most active governments in protecting and conserving marine life and ecosystems.

One of the country’s strategies is designating rich and diverse marine ecosystems as marine protected areas (MPAs). An MPA designation actively protects ecosystems from overfishing and other human activities that can harm wildlife or damage and destroy the marine life habitats they contain. It also puts the area under the local environmental agency’s protection, care, monitoring, and regulation.

There are 16 marine protected areas in the UAE. Six of them are in Abu Dhabi and under the care of the Environmental Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). They are the following:

  1. Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve

The waters around Marawah in Abu Dhabi are home to the largest population of dugongs in the UAE.

In 2001, the UAE government declared the marine ecosystem around Marawah Island as the Marawah Marine Protected Area (MMPA). This move is one of the reasons why dugongs, a species The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included in its red list of vulnerable animals, continue to flourish in the UAE.

MMPA became the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve (MMBR) in 2007 after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared it a biosphere reserve. MMBR spans approximately 1,643 square miles, 74 miles of coastline, and 10 islands; it accounts for 63% of the marine protected areas in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

  1. Al Saadiyat Marine National Park

The Saadiyat Marine National Park covers nearly 23 square miles of marine waters off the coast of Saadiyat Island.

It is home to a diverse wildlife, including Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea), Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), critically endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), green turtles (Chelonia mydas), and many invertebrates and epibenthic species. The Park also protects marine habitats like seagrass beds, coral reefs, and mangroves.

  1. Al Yasat Marine Protected Area

Al Yasat Marine Protected Area is located at the far western end of the Abu Dhabi emirate, specifically in the Al Dhafra region. The area includes the islands and surrounding waters of Al Ghagha, Al Qaffay, and Al Yasat. The seagrass beds in the area make it an essential habitat for dugongs, and corals, dolphins, and sea turtles also thrive in Al Yasat MPA.

  1. Ras Ghanada Protected Area

Extending a little over 21 square miles, the Ras Ghanada Protected Area is located offshore of Al Taweelah in Abu Dhabi. It is highly important in marine conservation because of its large community of coral reefs; it is the largest in the UAE and home to 40% of all Arabian Gulf coral species.

Aside from corals, turtles and dolphins also thrive in the Ras Ghanada Protected Area. Dugongs, sea snakes, and clownfish also occasionally make an appearance.

  1. Mangrove Marine National Park

There are millions of mangrove trees in Mangrove Marine National Park. Mangroves are trees and shrubs that live in water. They have an intricate root system, an adaptation that gives mangroves stability in the soft and shifting sediments of the shoreline.

Mangroves are a valuable habitat for sponges, phytoplankton, oysters, herons, flamingos, and other organisms. Like other plants, they remove carbon dioxide from the air. They also purify water and protect shores from tidal surges.

  1. Bul Syayeef Marine Protected Area

Bul Syayeef Marine Protected Area spans approximately 56 square miles of islands and waters west of the Mussafah channel. The protected area is bounded by Al Aryam Island, Halat Al Bahrani, Al Futaisi, and the mainland coast of Al Semiyyah and Abu Dhabi Industrial City.

Bul Syayeef MPA is part of the World Wetland Sites Network, and it’s important because of its mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass beds – all precious habitats for birds and marine wildlife.

Taking Marine Conservation Seriously

The UAE takes marine conservation seriously.

Abu Dhabi, in particular, has six marine protected areas, including the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, home to the densest population of dugongs in the world.