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Atlantis aquarium playing its part in marine conservation

posted on 26/09/2015: 2090 views

There is a growing interest in the inhabitants of underwater worlds, which hopefully will bode well for their continuing survival.

Species of coral are thriving in some of the world's saltiest and warmest waters, here in the Arabian Gulf. Their survival could provide answers as to why they are dying out elsewhere.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said about 12 per cent of the world's reefs had suffered bleaching in the past year because of rising sea temperatures. About half of these, an area of 12,000 square kilometres of coral, could be lost for ever.

The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm is playing a key role in protecting species indigenous to the Arabian Gulf, including coral.

Aquarium experts continually monitor coral and fish species in their many tanks, in water conditions similar to that in the Gulf, to assess how they adapt and develop. Anything unusual or of scientific interest is shared with other marine experts and aquariologists.

"The Gulf is a very hostile environment. It is very hot, and very salty, yet there are 65 species of coral here that are thriving,” said Nicholas Derbyshire, manager of animal acquisitions and fish husbandry for The Lost Chambers.

"Nobody fully understands how that is possible.

"Scientists believe the key to reef survival is already here, with the way coral off the UAE has adapted to such salty waters.”

Last year, the aquarium also released 3,000 hammour fingerlings, a fish species popular with commercial fishermen, to help educate schoolchildren on the importance of conservation programmes.

The fingerlings were bred by the Marine Resource Research Centre of the Ministry of the Environment and Water and released off Nasimi Beach.

A similar programme will take place later this year.

Marine experts also educate aquarium visitors about sharks and rays to improve the public image and our understanding of the creatures.

This programme includes a shark and ray feeding tank, where people can climb in and feed the fish by hand.

Mr Derbyshire said most people left with a different idea of sharks and rays.

"It is hard getting them into the water but it is even harder getting them out again,” he said.

"They are mesmerised.”

When construction of The Palm was first mooted, conservationists were concerned about its possible impact on marine ecosystems. But some species, including rays and sharks, have started to thrive.

The coastline around Dubai has been extended by about 25 kilometres and is now a no-fishing zone. It has created a sanctuary for juvenile sharks, rays and other marine life.

One of the aquarium's special attractions is Zebedee, a female zebra shark that is producing offspring without fertilisation from a male.

The natural phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, and has encouraged a collaboration between Atlantis and the Burj al Arab aquarium to study why it has occurred.

All of Zebedee's young so far have been female.

"It is not clear how zebra sharks here have been able to conceive without any male interaction,” said Mr Derbyshire.

"[But] we know sharks can store sperm for a long time and then use it to fertilise eggs once the environment is considered safe, to maximise the chances of survival.”

Elsewhere at the aquarium, special warming plates have been built into rocks to help rare albino alligators, because they need shelter from the Sun but also heat to survive.

Brought in from Florida, they are a pair of only 50 on display in the world, and the only ones in the Middle East.

Recent sightings of a young whale shark in Dubai Marina has stimulated discussion and questions about sharks from aquarium visitors.

Steve Kaiser, from the marine sciences and engineering department at Atlantis, said whale sharks were migratory and often passed through the Arabian Gulf as waters warm up during summer.

"We've seen many instances of this with marine wildlife, especially whales and sharks, entering the marina because of its proximity to the open sea,” he said. "Since they are slow to grow and reproduce, populations may not recover quickly if this species is overfished.

"Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant danger to humans. Younger whale sharks are actually quite gentle and can play with divers.” – The National -


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