Gulf development threatens marine environment

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A report issued by the United Nations University today has found that the rapid coastal developments seen in the Middle East must be controlled if wide spread environmental collapse is to be avoided.

The study found that the fragile marine ecosystems shared by eight Gulf countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are already suffering severe degradation and losses.

The report, by UNU's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, says fisheries and a broad range of other valuable resources and services provided by the Gulf's ecosystems are at risk of being lost because of inadequate environmental management.

The study which was launched at the UN headquarters in New York found that the development of the coastline in the wealthy Gulf countries had been so rapid that there had been insufficient regulatory measures put in place to guide the growth. Together with semi-enclosed nature of the Gulf acting as a 'pollution trap', they found there had already been severe loss and degradation of important habitats, including mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs. In addition, greater pollution and other environmental setbacks may lead to the permanent loss of nursery grounds for commercial shellfish and fish species.

Co-author Peter F. Sale, Assistant Director of UNU-INWEH said: "Though focussed on the Gulf region, with its enormous new artificial islands and waterways, waterfront cities, ports and marinas, the report is relevant to other parts of the Middle East, to China, parts of South-East Asia, and elsewhere in the world where rapid coastal development is also underway,"

He added that by 2050 up to 91% all temperate and tropical coasts may be heavily impacted by development.

The authors called for better management and larger numbers of environmental impact assessments.

"Relatively little information exists on the short and long-term environmental effects of coastal mega-projects," said lead author Hanneke Van Lavieren of UNU-INWEH. "Without good planning and careful consideration of existing coastal features, hydrodynamics and offshore seafloor conditions, the consequences of such developments could be severe and long lasting."
 
"It is unwise to continue this pace and scale of development without careful consideration of the likely impacts on the health of marine ecosystems and their capacity to continue to provide environmental goods and services that directly support human wellbeing.  If care is not taken, the economic cost of losing valuable coastal ecosystems will be extremely high."

For more information see: Managing the growing impacts of development on fragile coastal and marine ecosystems: Lessons from the Gulf Hanneke Van Lavieren, John Burt, David A. Feary, Geórgenes Cavalcante, Elise Marquis, Lisa Benedetti, Charles Trick, Björn Kjerfve and Peter F. Sale

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