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Unearthing the Green Gold: The Growing Importance of UAE's Mangroves

Have you ever kayaked through the tranquil evergreen mangroves of the Khor in Ras Al Khaimah or enjoyed birdwatching in Abu Dhabi's Mangrove National Park? If you have, then you've experienced first-hand the incredible beauty and ecological richness of the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) mangroves. These aren't just attractive spots for eco-tourists; they're also UAE's green gold, playing a crucial role in the country's cultural history, economy, and environmental health.

The UAE, with its arid climate and high temperatures, is a proud home to these resilient mangroves, the region's only natural evergreen vegetation. They've been here for millennia, offering resources from the Stone Age to the present. But today, their role has evolved. They're not just a source of construction materials or fodder for camels; they are now seen as ecological lifelines, offering recreational activities and acting as crucial 'blue carbon' sinks that help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Our recent research shows that over the past decade, mangrove areas in the UAE have expanded from 135 km² in 2010 to 169 km² in 2022. A blend of successful planting efforts, natural expansion, and a shifting societal focus on conservation has fostered this growth. But as the UAE continues to urbanize, pressures on these unique ecosystems mount, making their protection a vital task.

Now, you might be wondering - how can we accurately monitor mangrove changes? Well, the answer lies far above us - in satellites! We used the Google Earth Engine and Landsat satellite system to map the changing face of UAE's mangroves over time. This approach not only presents a comprehensive picture of mangrove distribution but also helps us track their expansion or decline.

But there's room for improvement. More detailed coastline maps and diversified vegetation data could further enhance mapping accuracy. There's also a need for more frequent and updated mapping to keep a close watch on these precious green landscapes.

Importantly, we believe in the power of community. Protecting mangroves shouldn't be a task for researchers or policymakers alone. We propose a citizen science approach, where everyone can contribute to data collection. Imagine walking along a mangrove forest, smartphone in hand, recording locations of mangroves and other land covers. This collected information would be an invaluable resource for our mapping efforts. To learn more about this recommendation and full scope of the research study, you can access our policy paper, Mapping the Growth of Mangrove Forests in the United Arab Emirates from 2010 to 2020.

The fate of the UAE's green gold lies in the balance between development and conservation. We must strive to create an informed, engaged society that values these ecosystems not just for their economic or recreational worth, but for their vital role in sustaining the health of our planet. Together, we can ensure a greener, more sustainable future for the UAE and its mangroves. So, the next time you're kayaking in Mangrove National Park, remember - you're not just paddling through a scenic landscape; you're navigating the green lifelines of the UAE.