Saving Bahrain’s coral reefs

A Bahraini architect is on a one-man mission to resurrect the country’s coral reefs by building an underwater aquarium.

Overfishing, pollution and reclamation are among the many human actions that have harmed the eco-system, according to MSCEB architects and engineers vice-president Thamer Salahuddin.

“The creation of artificial islands has covered the natural breeding grounds of fish and corals,” he said.

The expert explained corals depended on the oxygen from the water and filter-feed on small organisms that currents wash into their openings.

“In the process of reclamation, a stilt happens, like when we have the desert storms here, it covers the coral and it blocks its ‘breathing’, so it dies,” said Mr Salahuddin.

The death of the corals also means the destruction of the sanctuary and food source of many fish that eat and hide in the folds of corals.

Mr Salahuddin, who has been diving since 1987, has devised a plan to create shelters where fish can hide and preserve the beauty of the coral reef.

“I always wanted to come up with an idea that’s practical, inexpensive and manoeuvrable to place in the sea,” he said.

His brother Salah Salahuddin, who owns a race car, inspired him to come up with the idea two years ago.

The petrol barrels used for the vehicle were usually thrown away after use, but appeared useful objects and appealed to Thamer’s architectural nature.

“I drew shapes on the barrels and made holes so they can interlock together,” he said.

The shapes were then cut out at a workshop and interlocked together and placed underwater last Ramadan.

His seven-barrel cluster can be found six kilometres off the shore of the Al Bandar Resort, Sitra.

Only four months later there has been a dramatic change as a blanket of corals and algae have enveloped the barrels and tiny fish can be seen swimming in and out of the holes.

“My main purpose is to create a sanctuary for the fish, because smaller fish need somewhere to hide, I’m making them a shelter,” said Mr Salahuddin.

“My next project is the biggest sea urchin in the world,” he said.

“I’m going to design something that looks like that, the concept is the sea urchin, but it’s going to be as big as a car, we can also put tanks from the BDF.

“Imagine if you create art structures in a way and put them in the sea and all the divers from the Gulf and maybe from around the world come to see this, it’s like an adventure under the sea.”

Mr Salahuddin believes that his underwater aquarium could help tourism and hopefully stir the government to pay more attention to protecting the Bahrain’s coral reefs.

“The problem is funding and no one wants to put in the effort. It’s very tiring and takes a lot of time, but I like to do it,” he said.

“My ultimate vision is to create a stir that will awaken the government to focus on this area and many other areas to revive the fish population and stop shrimping.”

Mr Salahuddin said this type of fishing was particularly harmful to marine life.

“They (fishermen) throw big doors of steel and wood from right and left. They scrape the seabed and fish and shrimps get scared and swim into the net,” he said.

For every ice box of shrimp, there are about two to three boxes of other fish that are killed and tossed back into the sea.

“They do that for two to three hours. Imagine what happens to the seabed when 600 of these machines do that,” added Mr Salahuddin, who said dredging was another problem.

He also claimed that Bahrain had the biggest dredgers in the world.

“They have big vacuums that sucks up all the sand in the sea to sell and they do it 24-7,” he said.

Mr Salahuddin’s plan to create sanctuaries for fish will help the eco-system in that it counter-balances the damage being done by over-fishing and dredging.