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Why the UAE is focusing on mangrove conservation

Abu Dhabi's Jubail Mangrove National Park features several kilometres of walkways EAD
Abu Dhabi's Jubail Mangrove National Park features several kilometres of walkways
  • Nature’s natural carbon sink
  • Protects coasts from erosion
  • Tourism and real estate benefit

A crab scuttles across the mud, side-stepping exposed mangrove roots until it dips into a hole, as a western reef heron perches between sprouting seedlings. 

Another comes along and the scene is repeated across Abu Dhabi’s Jubail Mangrove National Park, where people are meandering along a 2km boardwalk on a December morning. 

An hour away, in Dubai, the dust is settling on the conclusion of the United Nations’ Cop28 climate change summit. 

During the two-week event, 21 countries formally endorsed the Mangrove Breakthrough campaign, run by the Global Mangrove Alliance and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves worldwide by 2030.

“Mangroves represent one of the top carbon sinks of all studied blue carbon ecosystems,” Ahmed Al Hashmi, executive director, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), tells AGBI.

Ahmed Al Hashmi, executive director, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, at the Environment Agency Abu DhabiEAD
Ahmed Al Hashmi, executive director, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

The summit mobilised $2.6 billion to protect nature – including forests, mangroves and the ocean – from the impacts of climate change, according to the Cop28 leadership. 

The presidency also announced that 30 countries have joined the UAE and Indonesia’s Mangrove Alliance for Climate since it launched a year ago at Cop27 in Egypt. 

In September, the UAE government committed to planting 10 mangrove seedlings for every visitor to Cop28. The pledge symbolised the significance of the hardy trees in the UAE’s climate action plan. 

Nature‘s workhorses

Mangroves’ unique salt filtration system allows them to absorb more oxygen than an average plant, and store more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare in their biomass and soil, according to the United Nations.

Other studies have shown their ability to capture carbon emissions up to four or five times that of terrestrial ecosystems. 

They provide safe natural habitats for marine species and protect coastlines from rising sea levels and storm surges.

Mangrove forests can also improve human health and bring economic benefits. In the UAE, industries boosted by mangroves include fishing, eco-tourism and real estate, Al Hashmi says.

Mangrove forests stop erosion and protect the coast from storm surgesEAD
Mangrove forests stop erosion and protect the coast from storm surges

The public is “increasingly interested in outdoor experiences that offer a direct connection with natural landscapes with positive impacts on human health and wellbeing”, he explains.

“Healthy mangroves support sustainable tourism by providing scenic areas for tours, birdwatching and education.”

Meanwhile, the value of real estate “increases when healthy mangrove habitats are nearby and well protected”, he claims. 

“This is because mangroves not only provide a scenic view, but enhance water quality to stabilise the coast, improve air quality and minimise the impacts of coastal erosion, protecting coastal assets and communities.” 

The business of mangroves  

In the UAE, an entire industry is emerging to support the country’s mangrove conservation efforts.  

The government has committed to planting 100 million more mangrove plants by 2030, taking the total area of forest across the emirates to 483 square kilometres. It hopes to capture 115,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. 

Abu Dhabi, which hosts 85 percent of the UAE’s mangrove forest, is central to these efforts. EAD has planted 44 million trees since 2020 under the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative, and mangrove cover in the emirate has increased by 92 percent since 1987, the agency says. 

EAD and its partners are integrating new technologies, such as drones, remote sensors and data analysis, into monitoring and restoration. 

“Seed dispersal using custom-built drones has allowed us to deliver mangrove restoration at scale with cost and time efficiency,” Al Hashmi says.

Mangroves provide a safe habitat for a variety of speciesEAD
Mangroves provide a safe habitat for a variety of species

“We can access previously unreachable areas to enhance natural regeneration when needed, without entering and potentially disturbing sensitive habitats on foot.” 

Remote sensing technologies and field verification data has helped the agency obtain information on the growth and survival rates of restored mangroves, and monitor large areas more quickly. 

As part of the initiative, EAD has four commercial partnerships, including one with Dendra, an environmental tech company, to map and monitor 20,000 hectares of mangrove forest using drone technology.

EAD’s Blue Carbon Project, with French utility company Engie and Distant Imagery, another specialist company, aims to plant 35,000 mangrove seeds in Mirfa Lagoon, 165 kilometres from Abu Dhabi city, using drone technology. 

A separate partnership between EAD and local retailer Al Rostamani Group will see the creation of a mangrove nursery to produce seedlings. 

Other UAE businesses are supporting mangrove conservation, including Etihad Airways and Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc). 

“Businesses are increasingly interested in mangrove planting,” Al Hashmi says.

“However, EAD strives to ensure this interest is invested in the best possible projects that will result in validated, long-term positive impact.”

The agency does this by channelling financial support towards “science-based” restoration, monitoring, research and education, he says. 

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