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 (2); C (1, 2)
Indo-Pacific finless porpoise – Neophocaena phocaenoides
Criterion A; C (1, 2)
Dugong – Dugong dugon
Criterion A; B (2); C (1, 2)
Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops aduncus
Criterion C (1, 2)
Marine Mammal Diversity
Sousa plumbea, Neophocaena phocaenoides, Dugong dugon, Tursiops aduncus, Megaptera novaeangliae, Balaenoptera edeni, Kogia sima, Orcinus orca
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This IMMA in the southern portion of the Arabian/Persian Gulf is characterised by varied habitats including extensive seagrass meadows, mangroves, areas of sandy and soft bottom sediments, coral reefs and numerous man-made and natural channel systems. The area includes the city of Dubai and various, artificial islands and peninsulas. In the past 20 years it has experienced drastic impacts from human activity, mainly in the form of land reclamation, overfishing and other effects of human population expansion. However, the area still supports a number of marine mammal species, including the world’s second-largest Vulnerable dugong (Dugong dugon) population, and as many as 700 Endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea). Long term monitoring of these species using systematic aerial and vessel-based surveys has found high concentrations of dugongs in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve and the Al-Yasat Marine Protected Area. Recent surveys have also documented the regular presence of Vulnerable Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the area. The ongoing anthropogenic pressures in this rapidly developing region raise concerns for the continued survival of these species in this IMMA.
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 been subjected to drastic changes in 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 Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) are both list as “VU” (Vulnerable) species to extinction (Marsh and Sobtzick, 2015; Wang and Reeves, 2017).
Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance
Sub-criterion B2: 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 Abu Dhabi Central and Western regions placing this as the second largest dugong population in the world after Australia (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. Most of the dugongs occurred in smaller groups, yet aggregations up to 300 individuals are not uncommon. Significant dugong aggregations are also known to occur in adjacent waters of Qatar and Bahrain, however, the connectivity between these winter aggregations is plausible. Recent (2014-2015) boat-based surveys that covered the waters of the Abu Dhabi Emirate estimated a population of 701 (95% CI = 473 to 845) individual Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, 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).
Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities
Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas
Survey data confirm that the IMMA contains important habitat for Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, dugongs, Indo-pacific 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, 27% of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, and 22% of Finless porpoise are newborn or dependent calves (< 2 yrs. old), (Díaz López & Methion, 2016 and 2018). The number of Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin calves increased significantly during the winter season (Díaz López & Methion, 2018). During 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 IMMA suggests that dugongs are resident in these waters and do not move over 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%) (Preen, 1989; Preen, 2004; Das et al., 2015; Das et al., 2018). 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). Sub-criterion C2: 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 concerns as a recent regional study reported over 80% decline of the local fish stock of the major commercial species.
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