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Gulf needs to heed UN warnings of “severe” environmental impact of coastal development

But solutions available ...

Commenting on a report published by the United Nations University (UNU) last week, a leading UAE-based marine contractor said that while the report comes as no surprise, there are many solutions available to developers to help rehabilitate and protect the marine environment.

The UNU report warned that rapid, large-scale coastal development across the Gulf had resulted in severe degradation and losses in the Gulf’s marine ecosystems.  The report encouraged better planning and sustainable coastal management to avoid further aggravating the region’s fragile habitats.

“The reality is, construction on our coastline is not going to stop – and nor should it. We have a beautiful coastline, and should enjoy it. We just need to understand its fragility and develop it with care,” said Ecocoast Contracting Managing Director Lachlan Jackson.

The UNU report calls for adequate regulation to guide and monitor coastal developments and limit future marine damage.

“Regulation is absolutely essential for continued sustainable coastal development; but as an immediate action, developers and contractors need to consider ways they can reduce the environmental impact of their coastal developments today,” Mr Jackson said.

“There are two key areas we need to look at if we are to protect our marine ecosystem. First, the way we construct and how we can use new methods and new materials to reduce the impact on the environment; and second, what we can do to rehabilitate what has been destroyed by past developments.

“Firstly, the way we construct. There are many simple things we can be doing today like the use of silt curtains or oil booms in coastal construction projects to contain ecological disruption to a confined area.  In my opinion, all dredging and marine construction projects should be using these curtains as a minimum.

On a larger scale, the use of sand-filled geosynthetics as an alternative to rock groynes or retaining walls.  Not only does geosynthetic have a much smaller footprint than rock, the material is designed to encourage marine growth and in turn attract other species, such as Hammour,” he said.

The UNU report states 70% of the Gulf’s reefs have been destroyed in recent years, in part due to coastal development.  It warns the remaining reefs are likely to disappear unless steps are taken to ameliorate the impact of such development.

“This is a reality we sadly need to accept, but it is something we can change.  Marine rehabilitation comes in many forms.  One of the most popular solutions is the construction of artificial reefs – essentially the use of sand-filled geotextile to create an artificial marine habitat,” Mr Jackson said.

Artificial reefs have been constructed all over the world to great success.  One of the first artificial reefs in Australia was constructed on the Gold Coast over 10 years ago.  The project was so successful in creating a marine habitat and dive attraction the Gold Coast City Council this year commissioned another one. 

This week property developer Nakheel announced the creation of 500 artificial reefs around their developments in Dubai to help improve the habitat for reef fishes in the surrounding waters.

“Another more simple way we can help rehabilitate is in the use of what we call EcoJackets; used mostly in the construction of jetties, pontoons and bridges where construction has an adverse impact on the local marine ecology and materials such as concrete and steel concentrate development of barnacles and hard growths. EcoJackets are a geosynthetic wrap that can be easily installed onto jetties, pontoons or bridge piles to encourage soft marine growth which promote a far greater diversity of marine life such as crustaceans, and helps form in effect a vertical reef,” said Mr Jackson.

“All is not lost – there are many ways we can rehabilitate and continue to protect our marine environment.  The UNU report will hopefully provide a wake-up call to those involved in coastal development to seriously consider environmentally friendly solutions,” he said.