Offshore boom prompts calls for coastal shake-up

Within one 50 km stretch of coastline in the UAE, some of the world’s largest offshore projects can be found. But despite massive construction activity along the coast, there is no integrated coastal management plan in place to ensure its sustainability. Marine experts from across the region are now saying that needs to change. Zoe Naylor reports.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  December 10, 2005

Four of the largest offshore construction projects in the world can be found within one 50 km stretch of the UAE coastline. And over the next five years, several more developments are likely to emerge along the coast — from the Nujoom Islands in Sharjah to the Al Raha development in Abu Dhabi and the Manhattan-sized Dubai Waterfront project. Yet despite the unparalleled level of offshore construction currently underway, there is no comprehensive coastal policy in place to ensure an integrated approach to development. And that needs to change, according to Ashraf Al Cibahy, marine protected areas manager at the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi. Al Cibahy was one of several marine experts in attendance at the recent international conference on coastal zone management and engineering in the Middle East. Offshore dredging, tsumamis, water pollution and coastal erosion were all under the spotlight at the gathering. One theme that emerged from the seminar was the need for a comprehensive coastal policy. Al Cibahy warned that there are big gaps in the UAE’s existing marine and coastal environment legislation that need to be addressed. He said: “In the UAE, more than 10 federal laws and 20 emiri decrees have been issued since 1971 in relation to the subject of marine and environmental affairs in the country and its seven emirates. “None of this legislation provides a complete inclusive framework for the integrated planning and management of the coastal zones,” he added. Under the existing system, executive authorities are not clearly mandated in some of these laws; penalties are not clearly defined in some; liability and indemnity against environmental damage is not emphasized; monitoring, control and surveillance schemes and mechanisms of enforcement are not explained; and there are no specific regulations for coastal zones. Al Cibahy believes that coastal areas of the Arabian Gulf are under various degrees of stress as a result of major demographic shifts, intense urbanisation, physical alterations, and overexploitation of marine resources and marine pollution. To help minimise the risk, he has called for the development and implementation of an integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) plan — one that encompasses agreed principles of sustainable development and protection of sensitive and critical sites. He says an action plan is needed to improve and consolidate existing legislation. Khalid Mohammed Al Zahed, head of Dubai Municipality’s coastal management section, agrees with Al Cibahy’s calls for an integrated coastal zone management plan for the UAE. “An ICZM is like a master plan. Coastal projects are unique and are not like the normal construction projects you find in the city. It’s all about working with the environment — it’s a dynamic area, and one that is changing continually. “It’s very important to have an ICZM in order to know, for example, if I build a harbour in this area, what will happen 100 m or 300 m away from the structure.” According to Al Zahed, Dubai Municipality has already carried out its own integrated coastal management plan for the coast of Dubai and is now implementing this in phases. Work has already begun on the first phase of the project — the development of Jumeirah open beach. “Dubai is leading the way in this region in terms of coastal engineering projects, but what’s important is for each city to have its own integrated coastal zone management plan,” says Al Zahed. He added: “Our coastal management section welcomes visits from Abu Dhabi to show them what projects we’re working on here in Dubai, to share ideas, information and practices.” An estimated 64% of the population of all the GCC countries (excluding Saudi Arabia) lives along the western coasts of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Recent estimates indicate coastal investments in the region to be worth US $20 to 40 million per km of coastline (UNEP 1999).

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