Alert over Bahrain’s vanishing coasts
Manama, June 20, 2011
Development work and human activity along Bahrain's coasts are destroying protected areas of mangrove swamps, an expert has warned.
Bahrain's last predominant mangroves, which stretch over 14km in Tubli bay and scattered in Ras Sanad and Al Eker, are protected by law.
However, research shows more proper management and law enforcement is needed to avoid the collapse of a vital ecosystem.
Threats to the swamps include fishermen collecting seaweed that destroys young seedlings and bird catchers who roam haphazardly in the area.
This is in addition to the dumping of waste from coastal developments into seawater, said marine biologist and environmental monitoring and assessment expert Dr Khadija Zainal from Bahrain University.
"The most serious threat of all is the total physical removal of the mangrove trees by new development projects," she said.
Dr Zainal had attended a conference entitled 'The State of the Gulf Ecosystem: Functioning and Service of Environmental Sustainability' in Kuwait.
She was accompanied by fellow experts and professors from the university, including Dr Maheen Dairi, Dr Humood Naser, Professor Essam Ghanem and Salim Buhamood.
Mangrove trees are adapted to survive in salty water and help stabilise coastal areas as they protect them from flooding, said Dr Zainal.
However, increased salinity levels of the trees' natural habitat caused by industry waste, overuse of chemical fertilisers and the discarding of inorganic items are threatening their existence in Bahrain, she added.
Such activity has a knock-on effect on the marine wildlife, predominantly the commercial swimming Portunus crab, sea bream, brown spotted grouper and subaity.
"The dumping of waste smothers the delicate life in the sea and increases the organic matter in the sediment leading to depletion of oxygen," said Dr Zainal. "In short, human careless behaviour could lead to total disappearance of the mangroves.
"In Bahrain, there is a considerable public awareness about environmental issues, including the mangroves and other fragile ecosystem such as the coral reefs that support a sustainable fishing industry. However, there is a lot to be done to increase this awareness to protect these ecosystems from further destruction,” she added.
Enhanced education is the key to the mangroves' survival, she said.
"Bahrain University works closely with the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife in regard to the impact of land reclamation and dredging on the marine environment," said Dr Zainal.
Through the Education Ministry, school pupils are also invited to attend workshops and science days.
Dr Zainal said when she hosted a field trip to the mangrove area, she saw the huge damage that human and machine activity had inflicted on the area.
"The access to the mangrove this year was very difficult compared to a few years back," she said. "Waste products of all sorts were dumped in the mangroves and private land owners blocked the access completely except for a very narrow path leading to the channels and creeks. The difference was obvious in terms of the general health and well-being of the mangrove trees and the associated wildlife and the biodiversity was also much lower.”
"Although I did the best I could to show children the wildlife and habitat, the scenery was depressing because a large area of the trees was removed for the sake of housing and coastal development."
Campaigns such as Going Green and the encouragement of environmental prizes being awarded at schools and universities for environmentally friendly students are needed to raise public awareness, said Dr Zainal.
However, essentially people need to change their attitudes towards their surroundings, she added.
"What can be done to stop or reduce the damage to the mangroves and other ecosystems can surely start by changing our own thinking and attitudes," said Dr Zainal. – TradeArabia News Service
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