According to the United National Environment Program (UNEP), coral reefs benefit an estimated 1 billion people, either directly or indirectly, from the many ecosystem services they provide. However, due to climate crises contributing to high ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and pollution, their survival is under severe threat of extinction.

In a Meet The Expert session recently hosted by Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), experts from TotalEnergies Research Center – Qatar and Qatar University (QU) came together to deliver a public lecture on the significance of preserving and restoring Qatar’s reef population and to provide an update on the project.

Raising awareness around the subject of climate change and the preservation of Qatar’s coral reefs is essential, according to QSTP’s Executive director, Yousef Al Salehi: “We’re proud to provide a platform where experts can not only impart their knowledge but also mobilize community support, which in this case is pertinent for the preservation of our marine life. The time to act is now as coral reefs provide essential habitat for 25% of all marine life in the world and letting them die will have a drastically negative impact on the fishing industry, food supply and the health of both: us as a human population and the natural environment.”

Scientists predict that even if global warming is maintained at 1.5ºC, up to 90% of coral reefs might disappear by 2050 due to prolonged ocean heatwaves (United Nations Environment Programme). In Qatar particularly, coral reefs represent one of the most biologically and socio-economically important natural assets of the Arabian region. Stresses such as increasing sea temperatures, high salinity, and growing coastal development have resulted in shifts in reef communities across the region in recent years.

For the past 4 years, TotalEnergies Qatar, an anchor member company at QSTP, and QU have been working on a joint project – “QataREEF” – to remedy the situation by using innovative solutions to minimize the degradation of natural habitats as well as the conservation and restoration of corals in Qatar.

Dr. Alexei Godina, Sustainable Development Senior Project Leader at TotalEnergies Qatar highlighted during the session that TotalEnergies implements concrete actions for biodiversity preservation into its projects and activities. In addition to being a strategic country for TotalEnergies in energy production, Qatar offers excellent conditions to test and deploy environmental R&D projects, thanks to the presence of skilled university partners such as Qatar University and weather conditions for testing various R&D pilots.

“The QatarREEF project allows us to bring forth our knowledge in marine operations and to work closely with QU     ’s academic team for restoring the declining coral reef population in Qatar,” he said. “There is a direct link between the coral reef population and Qatar’s food security, as almost 50% of the fish population in Qatar’s waters comes from coral reefs. Under this project, we successfully deployed artificial coral reefs in Qatar’s sea, which will be monitored for two years, and we hope to showcase a successful outcome.”

Dr. Radhouan Ben-Hamadou, Associate Professor of Marine Sciences and Lead of the Marine Conservation and Restoration Research Group at Qatar University, commented: “Our ongoing collaboration with TotalEnergies has so far proven to be very fruitful, as the resources and means provided allowed the deployment of artificial coral reefs that have already been monitored for four months. In addition to that, we were also able to discover new coral reef species native to the Arabian Gulf.

He explained how unfortunately, most people underestimate the importance of coral reefs, as they don’t understand the direct link between their populations and our food security because the fish species in our seas need coral reefs to flourish and survive, and a declining coral reef population could have a drastic effect on our economy, due to a decline in the fishing industry in the entire Gulf region.”

“I was very glad to be part of QSTP’s Meet the Expert series, where we were given a platform to spread more awareness about our environmental efforts, and I hope that through our collaboration with TotalEnergies we will be able to make a difference in the declining native coral reef populations here in the world’s hottest sea in Qatar”.

QSTP’s Meet the Expert series aims to continue hosting industry experts to share their views on major topics as well as discuss and propose practical and impactful solutions for our environment and the economy.