To date, there is no comprehensive regional report or assessment on the status and trends of coral reefs in the ROPME Sea Area (RSA). The RSA is situated in a subtropical zone surrounded by arid landmasses covering the Arabian/Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the southeastern coasts of Oman located in the Arabian Sea. The RSA is bordered by eight countries namely: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Iraq, State of Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), State of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Therefore, the upcoming edition of the GCRMN report provides an excellent opportunity to contribute towards filling the gaps in knowledge through bringing together stakeholders from across the RSA region which will enable the production of a regional chapter which shall provide a glimpse as to the current status and trends of coral reefs the RSA region and contribute to the global GCRMN report.
With this insight, GCRMN in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs – Oman, successfully held the regional meeting for the RSA region bringing together marine scientists and governmental representatives to discuss the current status and trend of coral reefs in the region. The summary and outcome of this meeting is documented in this report. The list of participants is included in Annex 1 of this report.
The regional meeting of the RSA was held on the 6th and 7th of November 2019 at the Holiday Inn-Muscat Al Seeb in Oman. It was logistically organised and hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs – Oman, led by GCRMN while being facilitated and funded by UNEP. The meeting was convened to establish the foundation of the regional chapter of the global GCRMN report on the status and trends of coral reefs in the RSA region. The meeting was officially opened by Dr. Thuraya Al Sareeri (Assistant Director-General of Nature Conservation in Oman) and Ms. Etaf Chehade (Healthy & Productive Ecosystems, Programme Management Officer – UNEP West Asia). The two-day meeting used a combination of plenary and discussion sessions to achieve its objectives, which are outlined below:
- Updating regional stakeholders on the latest work and plans related to the GCRMN
- Creating a comprehensive inventory of available reef datasets in the region thereby improving accessibility to coral reef data for the regional chapter of the global GCRMN report
- Coordinating with stakeholders from all eight of the RSA member states to contribute available datasets to the regional chapter of the global GCRMN report on coral reef status and trends.
- Identifying key drivers of reef change and methods for future monitoring and reporting in order to establish a long term monitoring programme.
- Revitalize the regional GCRMN RSA network and discuss the way forward towards the production of a stand-alone regional report on the status and trend of the ROPME Sea Area.
Participants from the RSA region each presented the current status and trend of coral reefs in their respective countries showcasing an overall alarming decline in coral cover over the last decade with the exception of some reefs in Oman which seem to give the region a breeze of hope. Sessions on the production of the GCRMN global report were led by Dr. David Souter from the Australian Institute for Marine Sciences (AIMS), representing GCRMN while discussions regarding the development of a regional report was facilitated by Gabriel Grimsditch (UNEP) and Etaf Chehade (UNEP) West Asia. The technical aspects of data homogenization and integrating monitoring data from different regions of the world was led by Jérémy Wicquart from the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE), also representing GCRMN. Details of the type of data required for the 2020 status report, data sharing agreement and data submission were discussed and clarified. Concerns over data sharing were raised by participants, as some datasets were available but are owned by private entities and/or are yet to be published. The need to identify the barriers that limit people from contributing their data to the GCRMN database was expressed which could be tackled through the creation of incentives to encourage data-sharing.
The meeting outcome included the welcoming of the development of a regional report to provide a baseline of where the reefs in the RSA region are currently at and to document what has happened in the area that has caused the recorded decline. Participants stressed that the report needs to go beyond what the current status of reefs is and instead offer policies for decision-makers. It was strongly recommended that the content of this regional report should include the following:
- Drivers behind coral loss must be identified following which recommendations could be suggested which can potentially be adopted by policymakers and marine national park managers.
- Outlining the link between coastal development and coral cover loss
- Examples of best practices for coral restoration techniques from around the worldwide
- Rehabilitation efforts and programmes in the RSA region
- Highlight both economic and political valuation of coral reef ecosystems
In lieu to discussions on potentially establishing a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the RSA, it was recommended that the report identify important coral reef areas in the region that meet the definition of critical habitats. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) Sustainability Framework Performance Standard 6 was suggested as a tool to be used for this identification as the IFC assessment method is considered to be a good foundation for conducting assessments on the marine environment to justify how important an area is and assessing the magnitude of the impacts upon the area. It was also suggested that the product of this assessment could influence the regional marine ecosystem red list, which highlights areas of important reef areas. In addition, discussions diverted towards the potential establishment of a regional monitoring programme whereby data could be collected by students at universities and research institutions whereby the data interpretation could be published as reports. Lastly, participants highlighted that the shaping of the report would be more impactful using photos and infographics thereby communicating the current status and trends more effectively. It was agreed by all parties that a regional co-ordinator would be needed to lead this project whilst country co-ordinators could help in writing specific chapters concerning their area of work within their respective countries. A concept note will be developed to facilitate the production of the regional report.