Nature and Biodiversity

Abu Dhabi is creating vast carbon sinks from its mangroves and sharing its learnings with the world 

Mangroves growing at the water's edge

Mangroves offer vast carbon capture potential. Image: Unsplash/Timothy K

H.E. Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri
Secretary General of the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi
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Climate and Nature

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  • Mangroves could be a secret weapon in helping to turn the tide on climate change.
  • Mangrove trees act as a carbon bank – capturing four times more carbon than rainforests and locking it deep in their roots or vaults, keeping the harmful gas from entering the atmosphere for millennia.
  • Abu Dhabi is using its expertise in mangroves to support the growth of mangrove habitats throughout the world.

Mangroves are essential in helping to turn the tide on climate change. Globally, mangrove trees act as a carbon sink – capturing four times more carbon than rainforests and locking it deep in their roots or vaults, keeping the harmful gas from entering the atmosphere for millennia.

Abu Dhabi is using its expertise in mangroves to support the conservation and restoration of carbon sink mangrove habitats throughout the world. Mangroves could be an excellent nature-based solution in helping to turn the tide on climate change, protecting communities from flooding and preserving our precious natural world. These low-lying trees, planted in great numbers all along Abu Dhabi’s coastline, are known as the ‘Guardian of the Coast.’ They sustain entire ecosystems and defend our shores.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about mangroves?

Mangrove restoration in Abu Dhabi dates back to before the 1970s, from the time of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and one of the first environmentalists. He made Abu Dhabi a pioneer in the rehabilitation of these valuable ecosystems.

In recent years, we have planted 1.2 million mangrove seeds across Abu Dhabi using innovative drone technology that has been recognised as a top innovative initiative by the World Economic Forum. This has significantly cut down on planting costs. In the last twenty years, close to 20 million seeds have been planted across Abu Dhabi Emirate, increasing mangrove cover by 6,400 ha.

These intertidal mangrove forests live between the water and the land. They act as a carbon bank. Globally, they store carbon that’s equivalent to over 21 billion tonnes of CO2.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative

Abu Dhabi is playing a significant role by becoming a global hub for research and innovation in mangrove conservation through the launch of the Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative in 2022. This project was launched by His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of the Executive Council, and His Royal Highness William, Prince of Wales, at Jubail Mangrove Park in Abu Dhabi.

I am proud that we at the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi are partnering with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – one of the world’s leading conservation organizations – to cooperate on researching our precious mangrove ecosystems and their positive benefits on the environment.

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The mangrove nursery and innovation centre we are establishing with our partners at Jubail Island in Abu Dhabi will help us to understand more about the benefits provided by these ecosystems and how we can support mangrove restoration and conservation throughout the world to protect against flooding, dramatically scale up biodiversity in our seas and provide natural habitats for a wide range of wildlife.

The Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative will look at how we can best conserve and restore mangrove ecosystems by developing science-based guidance and cutting-edge planting methods to enhance the success of restoration projects in Abu Dhabi and around the world.

These plans and other studies will also help us to understand more about how the process of carbon sequestration works to stem the tide of climate change and even reverse the seemingly inexorable journey to disaster.

If we can ensure more successful mangrove conservation and restoration projects worldwide, we can reduce the amount of carbon in our air, halt and possibly reduce global warming and make that sharp turn towards a sustainable future for humanity.

Mangroves will not be the magic solution we all seek. It’s one tool in our armoury. There are many other blue-carbon ecosystems that we need to look at and invest in. These include habitats, such as algal mats, seagrass and salt marsh, which are interconnected with mangroves. They can play an enormous role as nature-based solutions, creating a world where carbon is back in the ground rather than in our air, where marine life can thrive and expand.

Mangroves also provide natural flood protection, reduce the impact of heavy storms and prevent erosion – protecting communities and saving nations billions of dollars each year with the potential for much more as we face the risk of rising seas. Mangroves are also among the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world, their underwater roots offer critical nursing environments for juveniles of many marine species.

Globally, however, mangrove forests are declining at a worrying rate. The threats facing mangroves are from direct human activities, such as coastal development and land conversion, and from climate change, in particular sea-level rise.

In 2020, the US/NASA geological survey found that the world had lost around 2% of its mangrove coverage and estimated that 60% of this loss was due to direct human causes.

While the rate of decline has slowed to 0.04% per year, according to The State of the World’s Mangroves 2022 report, as a global community we must go further and faster to protect our existing mangrove trees and to restore areas that have been lost.

In Abu Dhabi, our investment in research and innovation to study, sustain and restore mangroves is helping us to explore new ways to ensure cost-effective restoration. Together with UAE-based Distant Imagery, we are using extremely accurate mapping to drop germinated seeds from drones across Abu Dhabi at a rate of 2,000 per ten minutes.

This is all part of our fulfilling the pledge we made at COP26 to plant 100 million mangrove trees by 2030. We are determined to make sure that mangroves are a key plank to reaching net zero by 2050.

The climate emergency means we must speed up our plans to find the best answers human minds can provide. Through our Abu Dhabi Mangrove Initiative and its planned Jubail Centre for Mangrove Research and Innovation, we are investigating the unique factors that make mangroves such a special part of our ecosystem.

We will use our knowledge and take it to communities around the world. And this is only the beginning. Our work goes on as we look to turn the tide on climate change and the degradation of our oceans. Whether that’s through restoring mangroves and expanding them, or the other work we in the UAE are doing to decrease CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 and increase our CO2 capture capacity by over 500%, to approximately five million tonnes per year by 2030.

We stand at a crossroads in our history. Sustainability and preserving our natural capital is undeniably the key issue of our time. While the effects of climate change might not impact everyone equally yet, it is a challenge that every country must play its role in addressing.

We will use the expertise we build up in Abu Dhabi to support the conservation and restoration of mangrove habitats throughout the world – sequestering huge amounts of carbon along the way and ultimately providing benefits to both nature and people.

I look forward to the day when we can show the world how we in Abu Dhabi harnessed the power of nature to help turn the tide on climate change.

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