Abu Dhabi
Image by: Abu Dhabi Environment Agency


UN recognizes initiative to protect Gulf waters and dugong species with special award

  • Ambitious effort to restore coral, mangrove and seagrass in Abu Dhabi honoured as World Restoration Flagship Initiative now eligible to receive United Nations support, funding or technical expertise
  • Flagship news welcomed in the Abu Dhabi 

Montreal, 13 December 2022 The United Nations has recognized a drive to repair the coastline in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, as one of 10 pioneering efforts to revive the natural world.

The UN designated the push, which is creating a refuge for the dugong, a fast-disappearing aquatic mammal, as one of its inaugural World Restoration Flagships. These initiatives, which are eligible to receive UN support, funding or technical expertise, showcase how environmental advocates are mending damaged ecosystems across the planet. Human activity has significantly altered three-quarters of the Earth’s land and two-thirds of its marine environment, pushing 1 million species towards extinction.

The announcement came as leaders gathered in Montreal, Canada for the UN Biodiversity Conference, where governments from around the world will agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade. Talks are expected to include a potential global target for ecosystem restoration.

The coastline of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is home to an array of marine life, including 500 species of fish, seven species of marine reptiles, three species of dolphins, one species of finless porpoise and the dugong, the world’s only exclusively marine mammal that is herbivorous. But tourism, home building and other infrastructure construction have put critical coastal and marine habitats at risk.

To counter that, partners, conservationists and communities led by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi  are planting mangrove trees, transplanting healthy coral and creating nurseries for seagrass, reviving the coast and creating a haven for marine life. That is considered crucial for the dugong. Once seen regularly across tropical and sub-tropical waters from East Africa to Vanuatu, the mammal is now considered vulnerable to extinction. When Abu Dhabi’s seagrass restoration is completed, 3,000 dugongs – and over 4,000 green turtles – are expected to use the habitat for foraging and reproduction.

The effort and other flagship initiatives were selected under the banner of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global movement coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is designed to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces across the planet.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “Human activity is tragically pushing many marine animals, like the dugong, towards extinction. Abu Dhabi’s efforts to restore coastal habitats are a clear sign that it’s not too late reverse course and give nature a second chance. This example showcases that is possible to live in harmony with nature and that’s what these World Restoration Flagships demonstrate.”

Along with safeguarding marine animals, the effort is also expected to help sequester carbon in mangroves and seagrass fields, and create jobs in fields like eco-tourism.  

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, the Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, welcomed news the restoration initiative is to be honoured. She said: “Abu Dhabi’s coastal and marine areas are an important biodiversity hotspot. We saw the challenges facing our critical coastal and marine habitats and we are delighted our resulting restoration efforts are being recognized by the UN.”

Qu Dongyu, Director General of the FAO, said: “FAO, together with UNEP, as co-lead of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, is pleased to award the 10 most ambitious, visionary and promising ecosystem restoration initiatives as 2022 World Restoration Flagships. Inspired by these flagships, we can learn to restore our ecosystems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.”

The world restoration flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris climate agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration.  Progress of all 10 World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts.


About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. 

About Restoration of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates:

This World Restoration Flagship is coordinated by The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.


For more information, please contact:

Moses Osani, Media Officer, UN Environment Programme

For media interviews with officials from Abu Dhabi, please reach out to: Sobhia Akram El Masri


Type of article
Press Release