Bulletin 17 - July 1982: Status of Mangrove Forests in the United Arab Emirates

Status of Mangrove Forests in the United Arab Emirates

by M.I.R. Khan, Agriculture Consultant

1. Introduction

The mangrove forest is one of the important vegetation types in the United Arab Emirates. It occurs on muddy flats or finely-textured soils along sheltered localities of the coastline and some islands. It is flushed daily by the sea and can withstand a considerable amount of submersion. In appearance the tree is characterized by the presence of numerous pneumatophores (respiratory roots) protruding all around to a distance of some meters. Associated with the mangrove but on relatively higher ground beyond the reach of wave action and all but the very highest tides are 'salt bush' species such as Salicornia, Suaeda, Halopeplis and Limonium.

Mangrove vegetation provides leaf fodder and browsing for livestock (especially camels), fuel, and small timber including fishing stakes. The lagoons and creeks containing mangrove vegetation are valuable breeding grounds as well as providing shelter for coastal fish and other forms of wildlife. They also provide a moderating localized micro-climate, and have aesthetic and possible recreational value.

As in the case of inland vegetation types, the mangrove forest has suffered a great deal in the past from overexploitation and mismanagement. Not only has the area of forest dwindled to the present total of some 3000 hectares, but the quality of tree growth has also been adversely affected. The more demanding and useful species have disappeared altogether. Only 'Quorm' (Avicennia marina), a colonizing and pioneer species adapted to newly-formed or relatively poor habitat conditions, is now found in the Emirates' mangrove forests. Immediate steps need to be taken to conserve and rehabilitate the surviving forest and to extend it to areas which may still be found suitable for its propagation.

2. Survey, Mapping and Demarcation Requirements

The first step to conserve and properly manage the existing mangrove areas should be to survey, map and delineate this vegetational type on topographical maps. This can best be achieved by aerial photography at scales of 1:25000 and 1:10000 along with the necessary ground control. Overall photography may be carried out at the smaller scale, and after a detailed study of the patches of mangrove air photographs may be taken at the larger scale.

Delineation should be carried out on the topographic maps not only to mark existing forest but also to demarcate areas which have the potential for extending the forest cover. This will give an accurate picture of both present and potential status.

3. Conservation, Development and Management of the Mangrove Forest

Most of the surviving forest is in state ownership and should be protected and properly managed by the governments of the various Emirates. In places the mangrove is threatened with extinction by urbanisation and industrial development.

Management plans may be prepared for blocks of mangrove in suitable locations. Such plans will take into account boundary demarcation, fencing if necessary, tending and scientific exploitation of this resource, including rotation periods which have not been accurately determined to date. Artificial and natural regeneration of poorly wooded areas, plus possible new areas, will be considered. A number of studies of the mangrove would have to be undertaken, dealing with spacing and thinning, growth rates, aging and rotation.

4. Introduction of Exotic Mangrove Species

The Emirates' mangrove forests at present contain only a single pioneer species, Avicennia marina, which is well-known as a colonizer of newly-formed areas suitable for sustaining the type. with the introduction of improved conservation and management techniques, attempts should be made to tryout more mangrove species from ecologically similar mangrove habitats.

More valuable species such as Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorhiza and Ceriops candoleana from the comparatively nearby mangrove forests of Pakistan where they are growing naturally, or from similar ecological areas should be tried. Such exotic species, though more demanding and delicate, are economically more valuable.

5. Need for a Forest Conservancy and Management Law

While considering introducing and applying proper conservatory and scientific management in the mangrove forests of the Emirates, it would be worthwhile to enact a comprehensive forest law for the country as a whole. Such a law would envisage a technically-trained and suitable constituted forest survive to apply and enforce the provisions of the proposed law.

The FAO United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has considerable know how and experience in this regard and could be asked to provide suitable consultancy services in drafting the outlines of a proposed forest law. A study of existing forest laws framed and applied in some Middle East countries would be invaluable.


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