Some of Bahrain’s dwindling coral reefs may be restored to their former glory as part of a new initiative.
It is expected to begin along the western coast of the island shortly, with the sea near Malkiya the most likely location.
The project, initiated by the Bahrain Environment Society (BES) and funded by HSBC, aims to prevent the country’s coral reefs and fish habitats from disappearing.
It will involve selecting sites to create artificial reefs, a review of optimal types and sizes of artificial reefs, detailed design and layout of reefs for a pilot programme, cost-benefit analysis, an environmental impact assessment and review of potential sources of technical and financial assistance.
The main species of commercial fish this project aims to protect are hammour and bream by rehabilitating the marine environment they thrive in. It is hoped positive results will be visible within two years.
Bahrain’s coral reefs are mainly distributed in the northern and north-eastern shores and inhabited by about 31 coral species, including 25 hard coral species and 19 sub-species.
Experts told the GDN that corals depend on oxygen from the water and filter-feed on small organisms that are washed into their openings by currents.
While land reclamation helped establish Bahrain as the region’s financial hub, coral reefs have come under severe pressure from dredging and landfill operations, oil pollution, trawling, bleaching and land-based pollution sources.
BES scientific consultant Khalil Adnan Al Wedaei said two main issues contributed to the loss of marine habitats. “The 1998 El Nino associated to global warming is one factor,” he said.
“Most of the coral bleached, lost its symbiotic algae and died when the algae was not regained.
“Another is land reclamation and overfishing which affected stocks.”
Up to half of similar projects carried out in Bahrain were unsuccessful due to poor site selection, inadequate planning and negligent monitoring, claimed Mr Al Wedaei.
But he said officials were taking several steps to ensure the project would be successful.
“The first being the study and selection of a suitable area,” he said.
“Experiments are conducted to determine which structures attract the fish as their ideal habitat, just like building houses but for fish.
“The next step is surveillance from an ecological point of view and lastly monitoring the project to ensure its success.”
Non-commercial areas will be selected to ensure fishing does not disrupt the introduction of artificial reefs.
“In the short term it is financially unprofitable but when thinking long term this will increase fish stocks in Bahrain,” said Mr Al Wedaei.
“For such projects, the long term rewards must substitute current loss.
“In the long run, fish diversity must be maintained to rehabilitate environment and ensure fish stocks are abundant far into the future.”
Mr Al Wedaei praised HSBC for its support of the project, saying more companies should get involved in the drive.
“There are people and organisations like HSBC who are enthusiastic to support us in conserving this endangered marine environment.
“We don’t need talk, we need more action and I hope many others will follow in our path to bring back Bahrain’s coral reefs.”