Southern Gulf and Coastal Waters IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

30 240 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Indian Ocean humpback dolphin – Sousa plumbea

Criterion A; B (ii); C (i, ii)

Indo-Pacific finless porpoise – Neophocaena phocaenoides 

Criterion A; C (i, ii)

Dugong – Dugong dugon     

Criterion A; B (ii); C (i, ii)

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops aduncus

Criterion C (i, ii)

Marine Mammal Diversity

Sousa plumbea, Neophocaena phocaenoides, Dugong dugon, Tursiops aduncus, Megaptera novaeangliae, Balaenoptera edeni, Kogia sima, Orcinus orca

Summary

The area of the Southern Gulf is characterised by different habitats including extensive seagrass meadows, mangroves, areas of sandy and soft bottom sediments, coral reefs and numerous man-made and natural channel systems. In the past 20 years it has experienced drastic anthropogenic impact mainly in the form of land reclamation, overfishing and human population expansion related effects. The area includes the city of Dubai, artificial islands and peninsulas. Long-term monitoring of these species using aerial and vessel-based systematic surveys reveals globally significant populations of vulnerable dugongs (Dugong dugon) and endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea), with recent data documenting the regular presence of other marine mammals such as Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). The ongoing anthropogenic impact experienced in this region raises concerns on the survival of these species in these waters.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The Gulf region constitutes an enclosed body of shallow water with an average depth of 35m connected with the Indian Ocean only through the narrow Strait of Hormuz (Sheppard et al., 2010). It is regarded as being one of the most fragile and vulnerable marine ecosystems in the world (WCMC, 1991) and has and is still subjected to drastic changes across the past 30 years (Sheppard et al., 2010). The IUCN Red List of globally threatened species lists the global status of Indian Ocean humpback dolphin Sousa plumbea as “EN” (Endangered) (Braulik et al., 2017), whilst the dugong Dugong dugon and finless porpoise Neophocaena phocaenoides are both list as “VU” (Vulnerable) species to extinction (Marsh and Sobtzick, 2015; Wang and Reeves, 2017). All three of these species occur in with the region, and in particular there have been recorded globally significant numbers of both dugongs and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins within the area of the Southern Gulf (Preen, 2004; Das, 2014; Das et al., 2018).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion Bii: Aggregations 

The extensive seagrass meadows in the area support important concentrations of dugongs year-round (Preen, 2004; Das, 2014). Aerial surveys estimated an abundance of 2,682 (± 346) dugongs inhabiting mainly in Abu Dhabi Central and Western regions placing this as the second largest estimate of dugong population in the world (Marsh et al., 2002; Preen, 2004; EAD, 2015). The Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve supports the highest density of dugongs in the area followed by Al-Yasat Marine protected Area. Recent boat based survey that covered the waters of the Abu Dhabi Emirate (2014-2015), estimated a population of Indian Ocean Humpback dolphin of 701 individuals (95% CI = 473 to 845), placing this as the largest population estimate of this species in reported literature (Grandcourt et al., 2015, 2016; Díaz López and Methion, 2016; EAD 2016; Díaz López et al., 2017). The trend of the dugong population when compared to earlier studies carried out in 2015 (Das et al., 2015) showed non-significant variation when standard deviations are taken into consideration (Das et al. 2018). Most of the dugongs occurred in smaller groups, however, aggregations up to 300 individuals are not uncommon and are observed in both winter and summer seasons. The reason behind such aggregations is not clear, however nursing of young animals, rough-sea conditions, breeding and calving can be related to the size of the observed aggregations. Significant dugong aggregations are also known to occur also in adjacent waters of Qatar and Bahrain, however the connectivity between these winter aggregations is plausible and effort should be place to assess this, and keep it in consideration to formulate transboundary conservation efforts.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion Ci: Reproductive Areas

Survey data from the region confirm that this area contains important for reproductive habitats for Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, dugongs, finless porpoises and Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins to mate, give birth, and/or care for young until weaning (EAD, 2015; EAD, 2016; Díaz López et al., 2017; Grandcourt et al., 2017). Overall, 26% of the individuals in each group of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins are newborn or dependent calves (< 2 yrs. old), 27% of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins, 22% of Finless porpoise (Díaz López & Methion, 2016 and 2018). From citizen science data 19% of the sighting reported indicated the presence of calves, and from the Saadiyat lsland base data, calves were observed in 16% of the sightings. Results obtained during boat-based surveys between 2014 and 2017 did not reveal seasonal variations in the presence of calves in Indian Ocean humpback dolphin or Finless porpoise (Díaz López & Methion, 2016; 2018). However, the number of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin dependent calves increased significantly during the winter season (Díaz López & Methion, 2018). During the boat-based surveys carried out during 2017, the research team observed a female Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin giving birth in the waters within the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. Satellite telemetry of dugongs in the area suggests that the dugongs are resident in these waters and do not move large distances (EAD, 2012). During aerial and boat-based surveys it has been confirmed that dugongs breed in the shallow coastal waters of Abu Dhabi (Das et al., 2018). Many groups included mother-calf pairs (8.2% to 20.6%) during the surveys indicates mating and calving of dugongs (Preen, 1989; Preen, 2004; Das et al., 2015; Das et al., 2018), whilst drone footage recently showed two calves with a mother, which supported earlier sighting of two cases of twins during earlier aerial surveys (Das et al., 2015). In three incidences of dugong mortality, dead placenta was found in mother’s uterus suggesting that the area is used by dugongs for calving (Das et al. 2019). Sub-criterion Cii: Feeding Areas

Within the coastal waters of the Southern Gulf is an estimated seagrass cover of greater than 5600 Km2, with a depth gradient up to 15 m (Phillips et al., 2003; Erftemeijer and Shuail, 2012; Al Dhaheri, 2017). The seagrass meadows are critical foraging areas for dugongs and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins as confirmed by visual observations from aerial and boat-based surveys (Das, 2005; Díaz López, et al., 2017; Díaz López and Methion, 2016, 2018). These also include narrow inshore channels, mangrove areas, and open sandy and shallow coastal waters as an important foraging habitat for Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins, and finless porpoises (Díaz López and Methion, 2016, 2018; EAD 2016; Díaz López et al., 2017). Within the coastal waters of Dubai, both boat-based survey and occasional sighting data reported all three primary cetacean species actively feeding in the areas. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins have been directly observed feeding on specific species like cephalopods and following shoals of barracuda and kingfish. Preliminary studies on stomach contents show that a number of species identified as prey are common commercial species targeted by the local fishery industry. This raises concern as a recent regional study reported over 80% decline of the local fish stock of the major commercial species.

Supporting Information

Al Dhaheri, S., Javed, S., Alzahlawi, N., Binkulaib, R., Cowie,W., Grandcourt, E. and Kabshawi, M. 2017. Abu Dhabi Emirate Habitat Classification and Protection Guideline. Environment Agency Abu-Dhabi. Pages -76

Baldwin, R.M., Collins, M., Van Waerebeek, K. and Minton, G., 2004. The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin of the Arabian region: a status review. Aquatic Mammals, 30(1), pp.111-124.

Braulik, G.T., Findlay, K., Cerchio, S., Baldwin, R. and Preen, W., 2017. Sousa plumbea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e. T82031633A82031644.

Burt, J.A. 2014. The environmental costs of coastal urbanization in the Arabian Gulf. City. 18(6):760±70. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2014.962889

Dakhteh S.M.H., Ranjbar S., Moazeni M., Mohsenian N., Delshab H., Moshiri H., Nabavi S. M. B., Van Waerebeek K., 2017. J Mar Biol Oceanogr. 6:3.

Das, H. 2005. Status of Dugongs in Abu Dhabi. In: “Marine Environment and Resources of Abu Dhabi” Edt. By Thabit Zahran Al Abdessalaam. Chapter 11. Pp184-199. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, UAE. Motivate Publishing.

Das, H. S, Al Hameli, M, Al Ameri, H, Bulga, I, Abdulla, M, and Grandcourt, E. 2015. Aerial Survey of Marine Wildlife 2015. Monitoring of Marine Endangered Species Project. Marine Division. TMBS. EAD. p. 16.

Das, H. S, Al Hameli, M, Bulga, I, Al Ameri, H., and Kwan, D. 2018. Aerial Survey of Marine Wildlife 2018. Technical Report, Monitoring of Marine Endangered Species Project. Marine Division. TMBS. EAD. p. 25.

Das, H. S, Al Hameli, M, Bulga, I, Al-Mansoori, A. Al Ameri, H. and Kwan, D. 2019. Investigation of Mortality of Dugongs in Abu Dhabi Waters (2009-2018). Marine Assessment and Conservation Section. Marine Division. TMBS. EAD. p. 22.

Díaz López B. and Methion, S., 2016. Abundance estimate, distribution and use of habitat of dolphin species in Abu Dhabi waters 2014-2016. Marine Division. TMBS. EAD. 120 p.

Díaz López B. and Methion, S., 2018. Distribution, use of habitat and group dynamics of cetacean species in Abu Dhabi waters, April 2017 Surveys. Dolphins Project. Marine Division. TMBS. EAD. 20 p.

Díaz López, B., Grandcourt, E., Methion, S., Das, H., Bugla, I., Al Hameli, M., Al Ameri, H., Abdulla, M., Al Blooshi, A., & Al Dhaheri, S. 2017. The distribution, abundance and group dynamics of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (UAE). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 98(5), 1119-1127.

EAD, 2012. Movement of Dugongs in Abu Dhabi waters. Result of satellite tagging program 2008 and 2012. Marine Assessment and Conservation section, Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, UAE. Pages – 12.

EAD, 2015. Dugong Conservation. Biodiversity Annual Report 2014, Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, UAE. Pages – 20.

EAD, 2016. Status of Dolphins of Abu Dhabi Waters. Biodiversity Report of Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi, UAE. Pages – 16.

Erftemeijer, P.L.A. and Shuail, D.A. 2012. Seagrass habitats in the Arabian Gulf: Distribution, tolerance thresholds and threats. Aquatic Health System Health and Management 15: 73-83.

Grandcourt, E., Díaz López, B, Das, H., Bugla, I., Al Hameli, M., Al Ameri, H., Abdulla, M. 2015. Dolphin surveys in the world’s most extreme marine environment. Poster presented at Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals – International Society for Marine Mammalogy. San Francisco, USA. December 2015

Grandcourt, E., Díaz López, B., Methion, S., Das, H., Bugla, I., Al Hameli M., Al Mansoori A., Al Ameri H., and Al Dhaheri, S., 2017. Poster presented at Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals – International Society for Marine Mammalogy. Halifax, Canada. October 2017.

Hoolihan, J.P., Premanandh, J., D’Aloia-Palmieri, M.A. and Benzie, J.A.H., 2004. Intraspecific phylogeographic isolation of Arabian Gulf sailfish Istiophorus platypterus inferred from mitochondrial DNA. Marine Biology, 145(3), pp.465-475.

https://www.ramsar.org/news/united-arab-emirates-designates-jabal-ali-wetland-sanctuary

López, B.D., Grandcourt, E., Methion, S., Das, H., Bugla, I., Al Hameli, M., Al Ameri, H., Abdulla, M., Al Blooshi, A. and Al Dhaheri, S., 2018. The distribution, abundance and group dynamics of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (UAE). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 98(5), pp.1119-1127.

Marsh, H. & Sobtzick, S. 2015. Dugong dugon. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T6909A43792211. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T6909A43792211.en.

Marsh, H., Penrose, H., Eros, C., and Huges, J. 2002. Dugong Status Report and Action Plans for Countries and Territories. UNEP Early Warning Assessment Report Series, UNEP/DEWA/RS.02-1

Phillips, R.C., Roughland, R. A. and Ypussef, A. Seagrasses of Abu Dhabi UAE. Tribulus, 12.1. Pp 20-23. Journal of Emirates natural History Group. Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Preen, A., 2004. Distribution, abundance and conservation status of dugongs and dolphins in the southern and western Arabian Gulf. Biological Conservation, 118(2), pp.205-218.

Sheppard, C., Al-Husiani, M., Al-Jamali, F., Al-Yamani, F., Baldwin, R., Bishop, J., Benzoni, F., Dutrieux, E., Dulvy, N.K., Durvasula, S.R.V. and Jones, D.A., 2010. The Gulf: a young sea in decline. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60(1), pp.13-38.

Sheppard, C.R., 1993. Physical environment of the Gulf relevant to marine pollution: an overview. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 27, pp.3-8.

Sheppard, Charles, Mohsen Al-Husiani, Fahad Al-Jamali, Faiza Al-Yamani, Rob Baldwin, James Bishop, Francesca Benzoni et al., 2010. “The Gulf: a young sea in decline.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 60, no. 1: 13-38.

Smith, E.G., Hume, B.C., Delaney, P., Wiedenmann, J. and Burt, J.A., 2017. Genetic structure of coral-Symbiodinium symbioses on the world’s warmest reefs. PloS one, 12(6), p.e0180169.

Vaughan, G.O., Al-Mansoori, N. and Burt, J.A., 2019. The Arabian Gulf. In World Seas: an Environmental Evaluation (pp. 1-23). Academic Press

Wabnitz, C.C., Lam, V.W., Reygondeau, G., Teh, L.C., Al-Abdulrazzak, D., Khalfallah, M., Pauly, D., Palomares, M.L.D., Zeller, D. and Cheung, W.W., 2018. Climate change impacts on marine biodiversity, fisheries and society in the Arabian Gulf. PloS one, 13(5), p.e0194537.

Wang, J.Y. & Reeves, R. 2017. Neophocaena phocaenoides. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T198920A50386795. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T198920A50386795.en.

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