Press Centre

New Research Highlights UAE Case Study as Key to Meeting Challenges to Ocean Economy


Abu Dhabi-UAE: 9 January, 2019 – Part II of a research report released today by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) highlights a range of measures supporting the sustainable development of the ocean economy that are being taken across the Indian Ocean region.

The white paper Charting the course for ocean sustainability in the Indian Ocean Rim, sponsored by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Department of Economic Development Abu Dhabi, outlines key ocean challenges facing the Indian Ocean Rim countries and reviews initiatives undertaken by governments and the private sector in the region to address these challenges.

The second part of the research offers in-depth insight into five key issues – the degradation of the marine ecosystem, plastic pollution, unsustainable fishing, extraction of non-renewable marine resources and rising water salinity from desalination.


UAE project as a leading case study

The report includes a UAE case study that presents a solution to rising water salinity from desalination. Global desalination capacity is estimated at 90 million cubic metres of water per day. In the Indian Ocean region, the UAE leads other nations with a capacity of over seven million cubic metres per day. 

A growing desalination market brings certain environmental concerns to the fore. Concentrated brine left over as a result of the desalination process is often discharged into the ocean. This can contribute to increased salinity of the waters surrounding the desalination plants, adversely impacting marine life and habitats.

There are two main approaches to reducing water salinity from desalination – one is to manage brine discharge and the other is to repurpose brine discharge on land. The UAE case study focuses on the latter. Experiments are underway to repurpose reject brine from desalination for agriculture as part of a modular farming project in the UAE, led by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), an international agricultural research organisation.

Consisting of various components that use by-products of other industries or each other, modular farms reflect the growing circular economy mindset in the food and agricultural sectors. Through combining the components, modular farms use marginal land to provide protein and other nutrients with better water efficiency. The aim is to develop a saltwater-based agricultural system in which farmers can irrigate salt-tolerant crops with low-quality water in a sustainable and economical manner.

One component of ICBA's farm utilises reject brine in fish farming. The wastewater from the fish farm is then used to grow halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) with and without soil in a process known as aquaponics. 


World Ocean Summit

A key priority of the World Ocean Summit 2019, set to run from 5 to 7 March in Abu Dhabi, will be to examine actionable solutions to pressing ocean challenges in the region, such as climate change and the depletion of fish stocks, in the context of water resource conservation and food security. The event will also seek to reinforce the UAE's leadership in the emerging dialogue on developing a sustainable ocean economy in the GCC, Middle East and Indian Ocean regions.

"The challenges facing the Indian Ocean economy can only be resolved when the rim countries collectively coordinate and collaborate on marine-related policies. Knowledge sharing is a first and critical step, and we hope the EIU's deep dive into modular farming practices that repurpose brine from desalination in the UAE serves as one such useful case study – along with those from other countries – as we aim to transition from sustainability dialogue, to action," said Dr Mohamed Yousef Al Madfaei, Executive Director of the Integrated Environment Policy and Planning Sector at EAD.

"Bringing the World Ocean Summit to Abu Dhabi presents a unique opportunity to expand the scope of the conversation on the sustainability of marine resources in the Middle East and the wider Indian Ocean region. Furthermore, it provides a platform for the UAE to share its innovative approach to the ocean conservation and join hands with the rest of the world in developing a vibrant and sustainable ocean economy," added His Excellency Rashed Al Blooshi, Acting Undersecretary of the Department of Economic Development Abu Dhabi.


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