Abu Dhabi releases findings on valuation of the emirate’s coastal ecosystems

ABU DHABI, 31st January, 2016 (WAM) — The Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, AGEDI, supported by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, has released the findings of its Ecosystem Services Assessment as part of Phase II of its Blue Carbon Project.

The assessment explored how much stakeholders would be willing to accept as compensation for inability to access coastal waterways that provide amenity services, such as tourism, recreation or fishing, for an extended period of time.

The lack of access was presented as a result of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs – also known as red tides) as a proxy, though disruption of amenity service can result from a variety of other causes. The assessment also studied willingness to pay for the sites’ preservation.

Field surveys were conducted with two stakeholder groups in Abu Dhabi and the Western Region; hotel and real estate managers, and beach-goers. Subsequently, a first estimate of compensation required to offset the inability to access coastal waterways was found to be approximately AED3 billion per year. Such a finding can ultimately help inform a potential compensation framework for complex, land-use decision-making in the emirate.

“Coastal ecosystems have always been an extremely important element of the cultural identity of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and the UAE as a whole. By providing a first look at the value of our coastal ecosystems, the Ecosystem Services Assessment paves the way for continued responsible, sustainable development and the preservation of our environmental heritage, which is a key aspect of both local and national agendas in the UAE,” said Ahmed Baharoon, Acting Director of AGEDI.

Coastal ecosystems provide a myriad of essential ecosystem services; they support fisheries, protect shorelines, and are important for cultural heritage and identity, and they also provide opportunities for recreation and tourism – a significant amenity. A functioning, attractive habitat relies on the health of all the ecosystems within it; coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves, for example, must exist and work cohesively to ensure this.

In the Abu Dhabi Emirate over the last four to five decades, the abundance and quality of coastal ecosystems have generated high levels of amenity services, such as visual aesthetics, and helped market the Emirate as a destination of choice. As a result, urban development has been taking place in close proximity to the coast; however, the amenity services that marine ecosystems supply is not assured. The increasing incidence of red tides points to declining marine ecological functionality, in line with the shrinking of coral reefs and sea grass beds. If these current trends in marine degradation continue, large-scale losses of coastal amenity services could result – and further investigation was needed to quantify the impact.

A collaborative three-stage approach is also recommended to move forward. The initial stage includes a series of participatory modelling workshops to assess the priority services that encompass the Western Region’s food security and biodiversity assets, in addition to developing priority contingent valuation research projects. Following, it is recommended to determine and assess the national and international value of the Western Region’s assets to guide future management. The third stage then points to the analysis of the relation between the expected revenue loss and the restoration costs. Once all stages have been completed, the assessment structure could potentially be replicated across the nation and the Arabian Gulf region.