The Emirate of Fujairah was the first emirate in the UAE to establish four marine protected areas (MPA) in 1995. Rul Dibba-Al Faqueet MPA (2.2 sqKm), Dhadna MPA (0.015 sqKm), Al Aqah MPA (0.081 sqKm) and Bidiyah MPA (0.58 sqKm). Since then, the zone from Dibba to Khor Fakkan is being closely monitored for the best of the environment and the large fishing community.
The Ministry of Environment and Fisheries established the Dibba Marine Environment Research Centre to develop the reserve and educate the community on how to get the best out of the ocean.
"Fishermen would drop fish traps directly on the corals, nets would get entangled trapping fish and destroying the corals and anchors from boats would often just be dragged on the seabed causing a lot of damage," said Qasim Amour, Head of Research at the centre.
"Dibba rock is now a reserve marked with special buoys and fishermen have to fish outside of the zone. They are very cooperative and we hardly have any cases of people breaking the rules. A guard from the Dibba municipality is constantly patrolling the rock to deter poachers as well," said Amour.
There are around 1200 fishermen on the East Coast and 360 boats are registered in Dibba. Amour said the maximum number of boats in the water at one time is around 260 as some fishermen have more than one boat. Poachers or fishing boats found in the zone can be charged up to Dhs 3000 or 6 months in jail, added Amour. In 2001, 220 concrete balls were dropped around the area to replenish it, encourage coral growth and attract fish and sea life.
Researchers from the centre and EDA mapped out the areas to position the reef balls. "We are going to drop the reef balls so that we don't get in the way of the fishermen and respect their fishing territory. We are going to extend the reserve by putting the reef balls on the outskirts," said Ibrahim Al-Zu'bi, Director of EDA.
"The reef balls will be dropped at a 1 meter distance from each other and in sets. Each set will in turn, be 3 meters away from the next. The measurement taken today has allowed us to see how far out we will place them," he said. "We wanted to make sure the sea bed would be strong enough and the reef balls would not sink. We found that the sea bed is rocky so it is in perfect condition," he added.
Dibba Marine Environment Research Centre manager Ali Abdullah Ali Al Dhanhany has created other improvised underwater environments by weaving palm fronds to collapsible outside netting of fish traps, after removing the actual trap. "The traps disintegrate after about 18 months and only coral will remain. We want fish to lay eggs and fingerlings to settle here," he said.
Since the centre opened, Amour said the local population has become more interested in diving and is showing an active interest in the area, turning up in large numbers for annual cleanups.