UAE climate researchers have secured a $1 million funding boost to support vital efforts to protect coral reefs against the impact of surging ocean temperatures.
The key investment will enable the Mubadala Arabian Centre for Climate and Environmental Sciences, based at New York University Abu Dhabi, to carry out two years of work on a marine project focused on ensuring corals can continue to thrive in challenging waters.
The grant was provided by Dalio Philanthropies, a charitable organisation with a long-standing interest in protecting the world’s oceans.
The two-year project, led by Dr John Burt, NYUAD’s associate professor of biology, will explore selection and crossbreeding of heat-resistant corals in the Arabian Gulf with heat-sensitive corals found elsewhere to produce corals that can better withstand climate change.
Corals are a crucial part of nature’s ecosystem, offering shoreline protection and providing habitat for marine life.
As waters warm and ocean chemistry changes due to increased carbon dioxide levels, corals around the world are experiencing more frequent bleaching and loss.
However, corals in the Arabian Gulf have proved to be able to survive at significantly higher temperatures.
In initial experiments, Dr Burt’s team found that crossbreeding UAE corals with Indian Ocean corals could lead to an 84 per cent higher heat tolerance in hybrid offspring.
The partnership will also open the door for future collaboration with global ocean exploration non-profit OceanX, an operating programme of Dalio Philanthropies.
“The research we have initiated in collaboration with Dalio Philanthropies is of immense significance, not only for the UAE and the regional biodiversity, but also for the world,” said Dr Burt.
“This year, global sea temperatures hit record levels, which adds even more urgency to the discussions taking place during Cop28 towards reductions in carbon emissions.
“We are presented with an amazing opportunity to help protect nature, our greatest ally, in all its diversity in order to combat the challenges of climate change. Preserving the richness of ocean biodiversity is an investment in the future of our planet and all life that depends on it.”
Navigating the climate crisis
Mark Dalio, founder of OceanX, underlined the need to preserve the world’s natural resources against the backdrop of a growing climate crisis.
“OceanX is excited to collaborate with Dr Burt and NYUAD on research in the UAE that will have far-reaching implications for coral restoration and understanding of climate effects,” he said.
“At OceanX, we believe educating the public about the ocean is necessary to ensure the future health and sustainability of our planet; it is impossible to protect what we do not know.
“Partnering with this world-class educational institution and its global student body will allow us to conduct critical ocean research, further innovative educational projects and increase ocean literacy worldwide.”
The agreement coincides with the arrival of a state-of-the-art OceanX exploration ship at Dubai Harbour.
The 87-metre vessel is currently in the emirate to coincide with the hosting of the Cop28 climate change conference.
Its latest mission is to unravel the mysteries of the region’s underwater ecosystems, ultimately helping to provide a better understanding of the global impact of climate change.
It will be will be venturing into local deep-sea coral reefs, studying microbes with extraordinary adaptations and observing elusive marine mammals.