Environmental Conservation in Qatar
When typing "Qatar" in a search engine, some of the first keywords to pop on the screen are "ultra modern" design, "five-star" service and "cosmopolitan" sophistication. While all these concepts suitably describe the country, there is an environmental element to Qatar’s identity which takes a little more research to discover but is nothing short of extraordinary.
Qatar’s unique biodiversity is facing the threat of pollution and urbanisation. Luckily, there are several environmental conservation projects in place to protect Qatar’s environment, marine and wildlife.
Qatar is home to as many as ten natural reserves. Most of them were created following a 2004 Emiri Decree aimed at preserving Qatar’s biodiversity and limiting urbanisation.
Al Sheehaniya Reserve—located 45km to the west of Doha—and Al Mashabiya Reserve in south-west Qatar are the oldest natural reserves. Established in 1979 and 1997 respectively, they serve as sanctuaries for the endangered Arabian oxryx, a white antelope that is also Qatar’s national animal.
Al Reem Biosphere Reserve
Recognised by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme, Al Reem Reserve covers more than ten percent of Qatar’s total land. It stretches over 1,190 square kilometres on the northern coast of Qatar, and it is roughly ten times the size of Paris. Both oryxes and gazelles have been reintroduced to Al Reem Reserve, which also hosts other animals, such as the spiny-tailed lizard, and birds. The water bordering the reserve is home to endangered and critically endangered marine life—in particular, the Hawksbill Turtle and the dugong.
Qatar is home to the second largest population of dugongs, large marine mammals also known as “sea cows” and recognised by the World Wildlife Fund as a vulnerable species.
ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), Qatar University and Texas A&M University, with support from the Private Engineering Office and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, signed an agreement in 2014 to study Qatar’s dugongs and recommend appropriate action to preserve them.
“Currently, dugongs in Qatar face challenges including incidental fishing and habitat degradation,” reads an EMRQ press release. “The extreme marine and physical environment of the Arabian Gulf likely means that their life history differs from populations in Australia.”
“A great deal of our initial work on studying dugongs has focused on examining stranded specimen,” said EMRQ Research Director Dr. Mohamad Al-Sulaiti.
The tri-party study is still ongoing and will continue through winter 2017.
Hawksbill turtles owe their name to their pointy beaks, while their translucent shells make them the unfortunate target of illegal trade. Turtle eggs are also consumed in various parts of the world, a practice that has contributed to a decrease in the turtle population worldwide.
Listed as a critically endangered species—the last step before extinction— by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, hawksbill turtles nest and hatch in various coastal areas of Qatar in the north of Qatar.
During the nesting season—April to August—the Ministry of Municipality and Environment fences off Fuwairit beach, a popular tourist destination. Volunteer-based group Doha Beach Clean Project organised a clean up of the beach in November 2015, that resulted in the collection of over 50kg of garbage—mostly plastic bottles and items left behind by beach-goers.
The Marine Biology Cluster at Qatar University’s Environmental Science Center works closely with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and Qatar Petroleum on a project aimed towards conserving and monitoring hawksbill turtles in Qatar.
According to the Environment Science Center’s website, the project closely monitors various nesting sites in Qatar, including Fuwairit Beach. “If the team encounters a live nesting event, the turtle undergoes a scientific data collection procedure which involves collecting morphometric measurements, taking DNA tissue samples, fitting identification tags and satellite tracking devices.”
The Environment Science Center’s experts are also able to measure the success rate of a nest’s hatching once the nesting season is over.
Hawksbill Turtles Qatar is a conservation initiative launched by Dr Anna Grichting, assistant professor of architecture and urban design at Qatar University’s College of Engineering. The project aims to promote conservation of Fuwairit Beach and raise awareness about protecting hawksbill turtles in Qatar through environmentally friendly design.
This group of architects recently led a number of awareness campaigns about hawksbill turtles in Qatar and designed an ecological master plan for the conservation of Fuwairit Beach through sustainable urban and land design.
About 64 km to the north of Doha, the arid desert turns into green mangroves in Al Dakhira. Designated as a natural reserve in 2006, Al Dakhira is the only place where trees—Avicennia marina or grey mangroves—grow naturally in Qatar, attracting flamingos, herons and other migrating birds.
Teenage entrepreneur Lina Altarawneh has launched Green Mangroves, an ambitious project to promote and protect Qatar’s mangroves while raising environmental awareness among residents and visitors. Supported by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, Green Mangroves aims to bring together kayaking and conservation.
“From November 2017, in partnership with AquaSports Qatar, we will start offering kayaking tours of the Al Dakhira mangroves that incorporate two additional elements: clean up—picking up litter while paddling around the mangroves—and hands-on learning,” said Altarawneh. “We will also work with schools and universities to raise awareness and encourage education about Qatar’s mangroves”.
Altarawneh, who was awarded a grant to start Green Mangroves as part of the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants programme, said her idea came from a family trip to Purple Island in 2015. “We went hiking there and it was beautiful, but I couldn’t help noticing the island was littered with garbage.”
Energy company Sasol and not-for-profit organisation Friends of the Environment Centre launched Qatar e-Nature, an online portal and smartphone application listing the flora and fauna of Qatar. Since 2014, Qatar e-Nature has been organising annual school contests where students are asked a set of questions about Qatar’s environment and wildlife.