Al Yasat is ecologically, Culturally and Historically Important

Al Yasat is ecologically, Culturally and Historically Important
Abu Dhabi, June 18th, 2006 (WAM) Many nations around the world are establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect their most important marine habitats and species.

The United Arab Emirates is establishing MPAs not only for natural resource protection but also in order to conserve its historic and cultural heritage. One recently-established MPA is that of Al Yasat, surrounding and including a group of islands in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.

The Yasat group consists of four islands in the far west of the UAE. They are Upper Yasat, Lower Yasat, Esam and Karsha. The islands were declared a marine protected area by Abu Dhabi Emiri Decree No. 33 issued by the President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in late 2005, this resulting in an area of 482 sq. km being declared as a no-take zone.

The decree also stated that the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) would be the managing authority for the MPA, with the responsibility of overseeing and implementing laws and regulations within the Marine Protected Area.

The Al Yasat MPA is expected to provide effective protection for the area's fish stocks at various stages in their life cycles, when they are dependent on specific habitat types or locations. In the absence of fishing pressure inside the protected area, fish will be able to grow to maturity and increase in abundance.

The Al Yasat group of islands and the surrounding waters included in the new MPA are of considerable ecological importance. They are surrounded by coral reefs which act as important marine sanctuaries to many species including the already over-exploited Hamour, Shaari and Farsh. The reefs have good coral growth and high coral cover with around 8 coral species present.

They also have irregular coastlines with both rocky and sandy shorelines, providing a variety of habitats, besides suitable foraging habitats for the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles.

The MPA also has significant populations of marine fauna including the endangered Green turtle and the Dugong and desert hares are present on the islands, where they make use of the natural landscape and vegetation for shelter, food and breeding.

Upper Yasat has an important breeding colony of Socotra cormorants, a near-endemic bird species for the UAE, which is one of less than 15 existing colonies in the world.

According to surveys undertaken in this area , the Yasat islands were once the site of human settlement in the late pre-Islamic period (1st- 6th Century AD). The remains of shelters and other sites, which demonstrate evidence of occupation during the Late Islamic period, have also been found, including shell middens which demonstrate the way in which local inhabitants exploited the food resources present in nearby waters. Several of these sites are considered to be of national or regional importance.

It should be mentioned that any form of hunting, killing or catching wildlife, damaging the nesting areas of birds and marine turtles is banned and changing the geographical features of the islands is prohibited. Besides, berthing of boats in non-designated areas is banned and fishing is restricted within three nautical miles from the nearest low water mark (shoreline) in the MPA.

As part of preparations for the designation of the Al Yasat area as a Marine Protected Area, EAD has undertaken extensive scientific research. This has included surveys and assessment of the coral reef habitat of the area, through a continuing Coral Reef Investigation project, studying of and satellite-tracking of marine turtles after their egg-laying, and installation of permanent monitoring stations to monitor the regeneration of coral reefs.

As part of its work to enforce the no-take regulations, EAD will install around 22 marine marker buoys to mark the MPA's boundaries. It already manages the Marawah Marine Protected Area, further to the east, and has already carried out several fishery studies and detailed surveys in order to set up a database of fish stocks that can eventually be used to introduce a better management regime for fisheries.