A wake-up call to protect marine life, coastal vegetation
The oft-repeated statement that dumping trash into the sea is damaging marine life and coastal vegetation has been proven right yet again, as learnt by a group of Qatar University students from a sustainable development class during a visit to the mangrove and salt marsh ecosystems at Al Khor and Al Dhakeera.
The team of 15 girls from various departments under the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) collected, during a 15-minute exercise, 53 aluminium cans, 45 plastic bottles, nearly 30 plastic fragments including bags, packaging, bottle tops, five large aluminium food trays and about 25kg of fishing nets and nylon ropes.
“If so much trash was picked up in just 15 minutes by 15 individuals, the massive amounts of rubbish washed up among the mangroves is anyone’s guess,” said Benno Böer, UNESCO’s ecological sciences advisor for the Arab region.
Al Khor and Al Dhakeera mangroves are among the largest mangrove systems in the Gulf, according to Benno Böer, who led the students along with Prof Muhammad Ajmal Khan, Qatar Shell Professorial Chair for Sustainable Development at Qatar University. Held in conjunction with the UNESCO Office in Doha, the trip was aimed at raising awareness of the students, with the focus on basic mangrove ecology, the importance of ecosystems for biodiversity conservation, re-creation, and carbon sequestration.
“Seeing so many plastic bags, aluminium cans and abandoned fishing nets littering the mangroves was an appalling and unpleasant sight that calls for urgent attention,” student Semsia Mustafa said.
Her colleague Shaima Sherif observed she was able to understand first hand the importance of Qatar’s mangroves in sustainable development, and more importantly, the possibilities Qatar has in using its marine heritage to tackle global warming.
“Mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses form major biological carbon sinks and store as much carbon as all plant biomass on land,” Benno Böer pointed out while explaining that mangroves can store 50 times more carbon in comparison to tropical forests and 10 times more in comparison to temperate forests, and play a key role in climate change mitigation and protection against coastal erosion. “But, they are being damaged by coastal development projects, oil spillage and pollution by solid waste such as plastic, aluminium, and glass,” he said.
Prof Khan explained that “mangroves, salt-marshes, sea-grasses and marine algae are at the beginning of the marine food-web, and therefore extremely important for marine life, migrating and resident bird populations, as well as function as a spawning ground for fish and shrimp”.
Highlighting the menace caused by abandoned fish nets, known as ‘ghost nets,’ Dr Böer stated they kill a large number of marine creatures such as fish, crabs, turtles, dugongs and dolphins.
Deputy News Editor, Gulf Times
This article was originally published in the Gulf Times on Wednesday, January 9, 2013.