Natalie Banks is the founder of Azraq - a registered volunteer based non-profit marine conservation organisation. She's also a columnist for Ahlan Live.
During the past month, the UAE has experienced an increase in marine wildlife sightings throughout the country.
From reef sharks in Ras Al Khaimah, to thousands of Risso’s dolphins in Fujairah, marine animals are taking advantage of less marine traffic and bravely exploring the country’s waterways without hesitation.
While in some ways it is no surprise that marine life are boldly visiting places such as marinas, usually full of people enjoying recreational activities, what has surprised some people, is the sheer amounts of marine life being spotted. It wasn’t just one reef shark that was seen in Mina Al Arab marina in Ras Al Khaimah at the beginning of April, it was eleven.
While cownose rays spotted within Dubai marinas throughout the month, have been seen in groups of 50 individuals or more. But the spectacular sight of seeing two spotted Eagle Rays in Dubai Marina and then approximately 2,000 Risso’s dolphins in Fujairah was nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Representatives working with the Fujairah Whale Project stated that it was the first time a pod this size has been reported in the region’s waters. To add to the amazing sight, an extremely rare albino Risso’s dolphin was seen among the pod, which again, is the first time an albino Risso’s dolphin has been recorded in Fujairah’s waters.
Scientists are reporting record low emissions, air pollutants and ocean pollution due to less air, marine and vehicle traffic, as well as less industrial facilities and power plant operations. As a result air is clearer, waterways are cleaner and wildlife are exploring new areas. The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi reported a 50% decline in nitrogen oxide levels as a result of measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though this is great news for the environment currently, the grim reality is that these results are more than likely temporary. History has taught us that the environment takes a backseat to economic development, even after deadly viruses like the Spanish Flu. Even the financial crash of 2008-09 led to an overall dip of emissions of 1.3%, but this quickly rebounded by 2010 as the economy recovered, leading to an all-time high. Humans generally place their own comfort and convenience over the environment and corporates generally place profits and growth first on their agenda.
But optimism should not make way for pessimism. Where there is humanity, there is hope. The sightings of marine life in the UAE has given marine conservationists the opportunity to teach the public about the vast amount of life in the country’s waters and to educate people on the particular marine species. This enables some community members to care on a greater level and be moved to do more to conserve and protect the marine wildlife.
There is the opportunity also for eco-friendly tourism to take place and take advantage of the marine life on display, and with it, opportunities for organisations and individuals to work with government to identify marine areas that need greater protections.
For now though, the marine life sightings are bringing smiles to so many faces, looking out on a world, where oddly and albeit temporarily.