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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Coral reefs under stress

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Climate change is causing more frequent havoc to marine life as rising temperatures are damaging coral reefs around the world with no exception to the Sultanate of Oman.


Studies suggest that the future of this tropical ecosystem, which is fragile and easy to break and takes decades to grow again and harbours more species than any other, is probably worse than anticipated.


The Sixth Status of Corals of the World: 2020 Report reveals that almost invariably, sharp declines in coral cover, correspond with rapid increases in sea surface temperatures, indicating their vulnerability to temperature spikes, and found that this phenomenon is likely to increase as the planet continues to warm.


Although coral reefs in more than 100 countries cover only 0.2 per cent of the seafloor, they underpin the safety, coastal protection, well-being, food and economic security of hundreds of millions of people, said the report.


And the value of goods and services they provide is estimated at $2.7 trillion per year, including $36 billion in coral reef tourism.


In the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) countries, 35 million people benefit from coral reefs, including 16.5 million people who are likely highly dependent on reefs for their food or livelihood.


The ROPME region includes Oman, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and eastern Yemen.


Coral reef-associated tourist expenditure in the ROPME region is valued at $1 billion annually. This includes on-reef recreation -- snorkelling, diving, recreational fishing and glass-bottom boat tours-- as well as reef-adjacent benefits such as white, sandy beaches and sheltered waters.


However, coral reefs are under threat from climate change, ocean acidification and land-based pollution; as well as sediments from agriculture, marine pollution and overfishing.


“By the 2060s, one-third of coral reefs in the ROPME region will experience severe coral bleaching conditions annually. By the 2080s, two-thirds of reefs are projected to experience such conditions,” a report on “Coral Reefs: the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman” reveals.


By the 2040s, 40 per cent of coral reefs in ROPME will be situated in conditions considered marginal for coral growth, based on ocean acidity and the availability of aragonite. By the 2070s, all reefs will be in areas rated as either marginal or poor.


Coral bleaching is the primary cause of coral loss, although considerable localised degradation and loss have also occurred because of coastal development and overfishing.


“The ROPME region contains the most thermally tolerant corals in the world, but they live at the limits of their physiological tolerance, given recent extreme thermal anomalies. Thermal anomalies are particularly high in the enclosed Persian Gulf, which includes three-quarters of the region’s reefs. Projections of stress from ocean acidification are relatively low for this region,” the report points out.


“Maintaining the integrity and resilience of coral reef ecosystems is essential for the well-being of tropical coastal communities worldwide, and a critical part of the solution for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” underscored the Status of Coral Reefs.


In the Sultanate of Oman, coral reefs are located in five major regions and constitute an integrated ecosystem. In fact, the Damaniyat Islands Nature Reserve was declared one of the sites where coral reefs are one of the most important environmental components.


A national plan has been implemented to manage them and a plan for periodic coral reef cleaning campaigns has been set.


In view of the increasing number of nets and fishing equipment in the coral reef sites, and their effects on them, continuous campaigns have been launched to clean the coral reefs since 2002 at different coral reef sites, with a focus on the sites most affected by intense fishing activity.


Additionally, an integrated annual programme was carried out to implement campaigns for all coral reef sites, for sites with large coral reefs and for those that are most affected by fishing operations. Furthermore, monitoring and follow-up programmes are carried out by specialists from the competent ministry, and reports from diving clubs are being issued to observe the weather conditions.


@samuelkuttyvp


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