Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Recruitment and larval connectivity of a remnant Acropora community in the Arabian Gulf, United Arab Emirates





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Publication Title

Coral Reefs



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Arabian Gulf, Acropora recruitment, Agent-based model, Coral larvae, Connectivity and dispersion, Sir Bu Nair Island


Coral cover and community structure in the Arabian Gulf have changed considerably in recent decades. Recurrent bleaching events have dramatically reduced the abundance of previously dominant Acropora corals and have given space to other more thermally resistant coral taxa. The loss of Acropora spp. has reduced reef structural complexity and associated biodiversity. Sir Bu Nair Island (SBN) is a nature reserve in the United Arab Emirates that sustains some of the last dense and extensive Acropora stands in the southern Gulf. This study investigated coral recruitment at a southern coral reef on SBN and examined larval dispersal and reef connectivity between SBN and other local and regional reefs through an agent-based model coupled with a 3D hydrodynamic model. Recruitment was surveyed with settlement tiles deployed from April to September 2019. Contrary to other reefs in the Gulf, we found that Acropora is indeed the major coral recruiter settling at SBN reefs, followed by Porites. The models indicate that SBN reefs are mostly self-seeding but also connected to other reefs in the Gulf. SBN can supply coral larvae to the neighbouring islands Siri and Abu Musa, and nearby reefs along with the north-eastern Emirates, Iranian coast and Strait of Hormuz. Findings highlight the importance of SBN to protect remnant populations of the locally almost extinct Acropora in a region where natural coral recovery is increasingly sparse.




This work was developed as part of the project “Sir Bu Nair Island: Pearl of Sharjah”, a collaborative effort between the Environment & Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), Emirates Nature–WWF and Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG). We are extremely grateful to Her Excellency Hana Saif Al Suwaidi and Major Ali Saqr Sultan Al Suwaidi for their continued support during the development of this work. We are thankful to our field assistants Dinu Dassan and Abdullah Essa Alhuoli. In addition, we are grateful to Abdelaziz Al Suwaidi, Marina Antonopoulou, Mona Moller, Rima Jabado, Brendan Whittington-Jones, Fadi Akram and John Pereira, who contributed to the success of this project. We are especially grateful to Jonas Mortensen from DHI/AS for his valuable support on the Agent-Based Model (ABM) simulations, and to DHI Water & Environment, Brazil, for allowing us to use their software MIKE 3. Funding was provided by Emirates Nature – WWF and the American University of Sharjah [grant number FRG19-M-G74]. The EPAA, EMEG and Sharjah Police at SBN station provided the research permits, vessel and the much-needed resources and support for the fieldwork.

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