The temperatures are in the late twenties and we are standing in the middle of a mangrove forest on Bu Tinah Island kilometres off the shore of Abu Dhabi Emirate. As I look around I can see the beams of sunlight illuminating the faces of the worlds leading Blue Carbon scientists, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) marine scientists: experts in their own rights, volunteers from other Abu Dhabi tertiary education centres and that of Blue Carbon specialists from Indonesia and Madagascar who are currently undertaking similar Blue Carbon projects in their own countries. I am secretly thankful that we do not have the harsh environmental conditions that they have to contend with, such as crocodiles, and my thoughts return to the job in hand. Myself and my trusted work partner for the day, Hader who is one of EAD’s boat drivers and a master in the blue waters of Abu Dhabi, are measuring and recording various mangrove parameters, the details of which are being directed and recorded by Lisa, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from Smithsonian Environmental Reseach Centre, USA. As we step carefully to avoid the pneumatophores (the roots of the mangroves that stick out of the ground like new seedlings – something else we have learnt today) and try to avoid rouge branches I contemplate the scene. I have lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years. I see the mangroves every day. Understanding more about the potential they hold for the Emirate in terms of Blue Carbon and the other services that they provide, such as shelter for juvenile fish and other marine life, the protection of the coastline (which in Abu Dhabi has changed a lot in 10 years) and as well as the cultural and heritage significance is a such a fantastic opportunity and I am so excited to be part of it. Everyone is learning from each other and has a a genuine interest and passion for these ecosystems and their future.
Roll on three months….its heating up and we are in the water off the coast of Abu Dhabi. We have been in the field for 7 days and today we think we heard a dugong come up to breathe and quickly disappear back underwater with a very quiet splash. I’m on the seabed holding a rather large and cumbersome underwater camera. I look around and am able to identify the three different species of seagrass commonly found here thanks to some lessons from both Jim, our international expert on seagrass, and our own locally based expert, Dr. Das. Feeling quite proud of myself that I recognise this and elated that at this site we have the three species co-existing I watch as the team of international Blue Carbon scientists and EAD’s marine team enter the water and start to descend. Descending gracefully with a corer (a two meter tall stainless steel hollow pipe that has been custom made for this work), a wrench, a tripod, a chain, some pliers, a weighted board with a hole in the middle, and a huge sledgehammer is quite a challenge, but these guys are flawless. The team works together like clockwork although this is the first time the international scientists have undertaken these surveys with EAD. I watch as the corer is positioned in place by the tripod, the winch attached, the pilers in place to hold the chain and the end of corer placed carefully though the hole in the board. Then it starts. I have never seen hammering like this. Ibrahim from EAD is driving that home. Pretty soon its all over. The corer is winched up, the bottom capped and the corer and the other equipment dismantled and take to the surface. As I film them to the surface I glance back at the seagrass and think to myslef…”How much carbon do you hold? What potential do you have for Abu Dhabi…..”….
Next stop, Abu Dhabi stakeholder engagement. We are back in the office. The field surveys seem like a distant memory. Today we are talking about the type of policy frameworks that may be conducive to support the future management of Blue Carbon ecosystems. The outputs of the field surveys are imperative to this discussion as are the findings from the Ecosystem Services assessment and financial assessment as they inform the “so what”. This project, has developed the newest scientific data on Blue Carbon. It recognises that these ecosystems are holistic and integrated and that there are many other services, in addition to carbon that are imperative to understand in order to inform recommendations for their future management. Through the involvement of the International Blue Carbon community, outreach to regional partners and most importantly the development of a similar community at a local level, we truly believe we have provided a learning opportunity for all. We look forward to continued collaboration, hearing about your projects and sharing the outcomes of ours.