Abu Dhabi to build ultra-modern research vessel to protect marine life

    06 Sep 2021

    The Abu Dhabi government is building the most advanced research vessel in the Middle East to boost efforts to protect marine life in the emirate. The Abu Dhabi Environmental Protection Agency (EAD) said the state-of-the-art boat would allow the previously uncharted waters of the Arabian Gulf to be explored at a depth of at least 10 meters, The National News reports.

    EAD has placed an order for a new marine research vessel designed for operation in the Persian Gulf.

    The 50-meter vessel will be used for various activities, including marine surveys, fish stock assessments, environmental monitoring, and sample collecting.

    Onboard facilities will include five laboratories, a compartment for storing diving gear, and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) launch and recovery area.

    The vessel will be built at FRIERE Shipyard in Vigo, Spain, and will be managed by Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding with the support of the EAD team.

    The vessel, which can accommodate up to 30 people, will be fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, including five laboratories for onboard water samples, a remotely operated bathyscaphe, and facilities to enable crew members to perform scuba diving tasks.

    The vessel will enable the agency to conduct comprehensive marine surveys, including:

    ·  studies of the deep-sea environmental background;

    ·  assessment of fish resources;

    ·  studying deep-sea coral and algae habitats;

    ·  quality of seawater and bottom sediments;

    ·  and megafauna of cetaceans such as dolphins, dugongs, and turtles.

    EAD Chairman Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed said the investment is vital to the agency’s commitment to protecting marine biodiversity across the country.

    The high-tech ship will be used to help the agency respond to threats facing the marine environment, including debris, invasive species, and climate change. The development of this innovative new research vessel will maintain an edge in marine research and sustainable fisheries management, which is one of EAD’s top strategic priorities and one of its top success stories.

    The design of the ship began in January and is expected to arrive in Abu Dhabi in December 2022. Initial sea trials will take place in Vigo at the end of 2022, and the first studies of the state of the Arabian Gulf will take place after the ship arrives in the capital.

    It will be one of the most unusual vessels ever to set sail on the Arabian Gulf, and also an engineering and scientific marvel.

    Due to arriving late next year, EAD’s first research ship will bring important new insights to the environment and habitat of the UAE’s waters.

    Shamsa Mohamed Al Hameli, an assistant scientist at EAD fisheries, is part of the team ready to board the new vessel, which will be at sea for around 15 to 20 days at a time.

    “It’s like a dream come true, honestly,” she said. “I can’t wait to start and until it’s here and we start doing some work on the vessel.”

    Her excitement is justified. Work on key issues like fish stocks and marine habitats has mostly been restricted to the assessment of catches on land or operating just off the coast.

    Building the ship fit for this task is also something of a challenge. Other countries with scientific research ships typically operate in much colder waters, often in the Arctic and Antarctic.

    With seawater temperatures sometimes reaching 33° C – not far short of a shower or bath – the Arabian Gulf offers challenges at the other end of the spectrum.

    “Building an asset for our region is challenging for the shipyard because of the difficulty with the heat,” said Ms. Al Hameli.

    “It’s similar to any other, like cars or yachts. There’s always an issue with overheating and AC, for example.”

    The ship is currently under construction at the Freire shipyard in Vigo, northwest Spain, with sea trials in the Atlantic scheduled for next year.

    By December 2022, it is hoped the ship will have arrived in the Gulf when more trials will be conducted by Abu Dhabi Ship Building before it is ready for work with the EAD.

    The name and the final colour scheme of the vessel have still to be revealed, but its specifications include being able to operate in 10 metres of water, as well as the Arabian Sea off Fujairah.

    While the maximum depth of the Arabian Gulf is around 90 meters, it is much shallower off the UAE’s coast, typically 20 meters or less.

    Onboard, scientists will have access to five state-of-the-art laboratories, each examining different research areas.

    Considering her specialist area, Ms. Al Hameli says: “We’ll have a platform where we can monitor our fish stocks.”

    Most monitoring currently is based on examining catches, but the equipment on the ship will detect living fish in their natural habitat.

    “We’ll have different research to confirm what we’re finding in our fish stocks. [This will] make sure that the results we are getting based on fish landings are supported by other research,” she says.

    Other research will look at dolphin populations, and there will be a first chance to see if dugongs – plant-eating marine mammals – are found in deeper waters.

    Researchers will also assess the coverage of seagrass – the staple food of dugongs.

    Salinity and water temperature, including the impact of climate change, will also be studied along with the deepwater habitat of coral.

    The EAD chartered research vessels study fish stocks in the past, but the new ship will bring a new dimension to what can be achieved.

    “I really can’t wait for it to finish and get on board,” said Ms. Al Hameli.

    “If you see the specifications of the labs, you’d feel like it’s like an actual laboratory in the middle of the ocean where you can finish the whole thing from A to Z, instead of just getting the sample and going back on land.”Useful to read on this topic: H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, had launched in Summer 2020 a book titled ”25 Years of Preserving Sheikh Zayed’s Environmental Legacy”.

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