Bulletin 39 - November 1989: Miscellany


Marine Pollution

September and October 1989 witnessed a flurry of investigations after the discovery of large numbers of dead fish floating on the sea in the vicinity of ADMA-OPCO's offshore Umm Shaif Platform and Das Island. Workers on Das reported seeing hundreds of dead hamour and snapper, both bottom feeding species, which were totally ignored by the Island's itinerant gull and tern populations. Nor were the fish touched by other marine scavengers. On 1st October the local press reported 6 dead dolphins together south-west of Zirku Island near Bu Tini shoals. This follows reports of possible dumping of toxic wastes in the Gulf in recent weeks, and the finding of barrels of vinyl acetate in the sea off Ras al Khaimah. Iran reported in early October that an unidentified vessel had dumped 40 barrels, each containing 40 litres of "suspicious material", into the sea near Sirri island in the southern Gulf. It was also reported that a ship was roaming the Gulf in late September looking for a suitable place to dump zinc oxide waste. The UAE authorities are well aware of the problem and indeed all the AGCC countries are working in concert to prevent such illegal dumping. It seems that the immediate danger is past since no more dead fish or dolphins have been reported as we go to press. On 9th October the director of the Abu Dhabi Food Laboratory stated that samples of water and fish off Abu Dhabi had been tested and found free of any trace of pollution. However, the need for vigilance is ever-present. After all, who doesn't eat Gulf hamour?

Waste Dumps on Land

At the same time, Dubai Municipality has warned local companies against dumping industrial waste and garbage in the desert. Litter and general waste is a big problem in the UAE. While the cities have introduced legislation to clean up the urban environment through on-the-spot penalties for litter violators, there is little that can be done to prevent such vandalism in the open desert and along highways. Clearly the answer lies in education and respect for one's environment. A letter to the Gulf News in July this year complains of the ghastly litter at Wadi Warrayeh waterfalls, "from tin cans to paper tissues, graffiti on the rocks and soapsuds in the water". The letter pleaded for Municipal influence in rural areas, which remain very vulnerable to such eyesores.


In July the UAE issued a decree declaring all turtles to be endangered species, a measure clearly intended to save these creatures from extinction in the Gulf. It is now prohibited to catch turtles along the coast and in creeks and territorial waters of the UAE. Turtles accidentally caught in nets must be returned to the sea, and turtle-breeding areas should be respected. This follows active efforts in Oman to help preserve the breeding sites of the Green Turtle. Beaches have been fenced off and shallow water trawling prohibited. In some areas, even turtle-watching has been banned, to reduce disturbance.

Nature Reserves

The Emirates University has announced plans to set up 15 small nature reserves throughout the country to monitor man's impact on the natural environment. The first four, each 200 by 200 metres, were set up in September around Al Ain. Grazing and human interference is prohibited. The University's Desert and Marine Environment Research Centre was established in 1987 essentially to find ways of maintaining the natural ecosystem in the country's varied environments. From ignorance a few years ago, everybody now is aware to some degree of the serious degradation of land surfaces. Much of the present desert plant biomass is a result of overgrazing in the past, and sustained development in recent years has only exacerbated the process. The first phase of the research programme will include studies on the ecology and physiology of different allocated environments and the changes that occur in these protected reserves compared to those in unprotected areas. Part of the research is intended to make people much more aware of the habitat in which they live. Society in general must play a role in maintaining a balance between man and nature. The vulnerability of the UAE landscape is already evident in the depletion of ground water reserves, degradation of the natural vegetation, excessive loss of surface water through erosion and a weakening of the fertility of the topsoil, all classic signs of desertification.

Medicinal Plants

The Desert and Marine Environment Research Centre is also researching the medicinal effects of various indigenous plants. These medicinal attributes were known and used widely by the Bedouin for centuries but are now the preserve of a few old people. The research also reflects a growing worldwide trend towards herbal medicine, since in traditional societies such as the UAE, people remain skeptical of man-made chemicals and synthetic pills. Already the Government has opened a Herbal Medicine Centre in Abu Dhabi which is very popular. One famous plant found throughout the Middle East and North Africa is the desert gourd Citrullus colocynthis, which is widely-believed by expatriates to be bitter and semi-poisonous, but which in fact is used by a lot of nationals as an effective laxative with no side effects. The Group's Botany Recorder was recently told of one man in Al Ain who eats 33 pips of this plant every morning for breakfast -- 33 being a supposedly efficacious number. There may also be some basis for the reputed anti-cancer properties of this gourd, still to be tested.


A seven ton whale shark carcass was hauled out of the sea at Jebel Ali on 10th September, 1989. Also known as a Basking Shark (Rhincodon species), the creature seems to have died after ingesting natural toxic matter, possibly a red-coloured algae, according to Tony Woodward, author of the recently-published "The Living Seas". The whale shark is rare in the Gulf, preferring the greater depths of the Indian Ocean where it scoops up plankton in its wide-open mouth.


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