A research centre being planned in Sharjah will enable marine biologists, biophysicists, geologists and other experts to work together in studying the Arabian Gulf's natural environment.
The Gulf Coastal Ecosystem Research Centre is being set up by the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in partnership with the Sharjah-based recycling company Bee'ah, which has provided a Dh30 million endowment.
Dr Peter Heath, the chancellor of AUS, yesterday announced that the university's board of trustees had given approval for the project, which experts have welcomed.
The initiative was praised by the UAE-based marine biologist Rima Jabado, a shark expert who is interested in getting involved.
"This will bring ideas together," she said. "A lot of the work being done here is being done individually, so to have something that becomes central will be fantastic.
"We're losing marine biodiversity at a very fast rate everywhere in the world, and the same here.
"We're still lacking a lot of baseline data we need to determine what is actually happening with the marine environment. We need a lot of research, and the more opportunities there are to continue with research the better."
Lisa Perry, the director of programmes at Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, hailed the announcement as an important step, adding: "Such efforts will effectively contribute to building a strong academic foundation for science-based policy and conservation projects."
Researchers will monitor the health of the Arabian Gulf by analysing temperature and salinity, examining fisheries, coral reefs, seagrass beds and other plants and animals, and study the effect of desalination plants and waste products.
The centre will act as a central resource for data that will help the Government and private organisations run programmes to maintain to health of the Arabian Gulf.
"The centre will provide a platform for collaboration among biologists, marine biologists, chemists, biochemists, biophysicists, geologists, civil and environmental engineers and others," Dr Heath said. "It will also provide a boost to collaborative initiatives undertaken by AUS faculty members on campus as well as with partners outside the university.
"The establishment of this research centre will go a long way in encouraging and enhancing the quality of research, as well as teaching, at AUS."
Meera Taryam, Bee'ah's awareness and education manager, said that despite the emphasis on the coastal environment, the centre's research would cover other areas.
"It's subject to expanding its operations as a research centre," she said. "It will include the marine environment and air quality."
She said the link-up with AUS came about after Bee'ah decided to set up its own environmental research centre. It began looking for an academic partner and found the university had similar plans.
"We thought, why would two Sharjah-based institutions such as Bee'ah and AUS do their own thing? Why not collaborate and build a research centre together?," Ms Taryam said. "Bee'ah is trying very hard to position Sharjah as an environmental leader.
"We've been doing a lot of community outreach awareness and education programmes. However, we felt that on the research front, there was a bit of a vacuum in respect of how much research was being done in the environmental field.
"We need to generate as much data as possible about the environment within the region, and especially within the UAE. Even where it has been done there isn't much sharing and exchange of data."
An AUS statement said: "The centre's efforts will result in a better understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and natural and man-made interactions that influence it. Such knowledge will be an asset to environmental management policymakers of the GCC region and to the development of eco-tourism."