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Feature by Rebecca Kierman for the June Issue of Divers for the Environment

Feature by Rebecca Kierman for the June Issue of Divers for the Environment

You read the title correctly! This is all about corals. You must be wondering if there is much more you can learn after your hours spent watching the beloved Blue Planet on repeat. We all know the basics by now, corals are animals that wouldn’t live without the help of their friend, ‘zooxanthellae’, who provides corals with an energy source from photosynthesis. Meanwhile, all that microscopic algae asks for in return, is a place to live. It won’t occupy much space – after all it lives within the coral polyp. Together they form a thin layer of tissue cemented into a skeleton that provides protection for the both of them. When they perish, the skeleton will go on to live their legacy worthy of celebration (probably amidst a tourist’s bathroom decor from their holiday in the Caribbean). 

So let me scratch the surface on our local corals here in the UAE, in particular the East Coast and explain some of the news you may have read about coral restoration.

Firstly these diverse environments are far from the same in any one location. With an approximate 4,000 species found worldwide, it’s doubtful that you will see the same mosaic of species more than once. A large percentage of these known species are found in the coral triangle, located in the western pacific ocean, amidst the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Within the triangle, corals are densely populated and diversity is high. As locations from the triangle increases, diversity and density of reefs decrease. Towards the Gulf of Oman there is a lack of large land masses which in turn allow the corals to spread outwards and so there are many similar species here when compared to the coral triangle.

In the Gulf of Oman, approximately 75 coral reef species are found, this is a relatively low diversity for an area that seemingly ticks all the boxes on coral habitats. The reason for this is the unique geology of the area. As the last ice age concluded, during the Mesopotamian times, the sea level began to rise as a result of melting ice. This led to the shoreline of the Gulf of Oman to move landward by approximately 10 kilometres. Consequently, rich coastal and aquatic habitats were formed. Although this led to great advances in agriculture, there has since been limited geologic time for coral migration, colonisation and growth. 

The Gulf of Oman hosts a unique environment, typified by a sharp drop off at the continental shelf towards the Indian Ocean with an average depth of 4,000 metres. Here, upwellings are assured along the coastline, and with them they escort cold, nutrient rich waters, which can be disastrous to coral reefs. Although upwellings can be predicted they still cause fluctuating cold waters. Generating great stress and triggering the coral to expel their zooxanthellae and leading to bleaching events. Although bleaching does not always kill the coral, it is similar to when we are starving. We are not dying, but we become more susceptible to disease and illness.

Read the full article from Divers for the Environment here