Climate change, pollution puts Kuwait waters at risk

By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi

KUWAIT: Marine life is an important part of the ecosystem, as the earth is mostly covered by oceans. Therefore, we must preserve marine life because it has the biggest effect on the ecosystem in the world, Kuwait and the Gulf included. A study published by Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management in April 2020 regarding mortality incidents between 1999 to 2019 said:

Rachel Mulholland

“Different causes were responsible for the different marine mortalities in Kuwait and the region, including untreated sewage input, eutrophication, bacterial infection, algal blooms, hypoxic conditions, pollution and dredging.” Kuwait Times spoke to Rachel Mulholland, Middle East Principal Scientist at the Center for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science at the British Embassy, and Jenan Behzad, General Secretary of Kuwait Environment Protection Society (KEPS), to find out Kuwait’s position with regards to the issue compared to the world, as well as finding hopeful solutions for them.

Main marine issues Mulholland said that some of the key marine issues in Kuwait and the Gulf include biodiversity loss, climate change impacts, plastic and other pollution. “These are similar to marine issues around the world. The oceans are all connected, and some marine species travel great distances, so no country is detached from any other in terms of the impacts of these issues.” Mulholland indicated that climate change impacts are already being seen in the region. “The region’s seas are warming three times faster than the global average,” she said, pointing out “an increased risk of coastal flooding which could impact low lying coastal areas such as Kuwait City due to both long-term sea level rise, as well as flooding during more intense storm events”.

“Climate change especially is a global issue. Everything is linked and connected around the world… There is also the threat of impacts to global food supplies from climate change and these global impacts could also have an affect here in Kuwait,” she stressed. “More than 90 percent of the urban population is concentrated on the coasts and the population occupies most of the southern coast of Kuwait Bay to Kuwait’s southern borders,” Behzad said. “Kuwait has witnessed a significant expansion of infrastructure including land reclamation and construction, especially on the coast. Kuwait Bay receives wastewater from 70 percent of Kuwait’s coastal population through sewage networks connected to wastewater treatment plants,” she explained.

Jenan Behzad

Behzad indicated that discharges resulting from these developments have negatively affected the quality of water in Kuwait. “Rising temperatures and increasing acidity of the sea resulting from climate change in the world also have a major impact. The lack of management and mitigation strategies are one of the driving factors of pollution. Thus, if the right management practices are not implemented, there will be serious consequences for the future sustainability of Kuwait’s coastal ecosystems,” she said.

Main differences “In this region, marine life such as coral reefs are already closer to the maximum temperatures that they can withstand, so a marine temperature increase or heatwave period could have more of a lethal impact than the same increase in another part of the world where temperatures are cooler,” Mulholland explained. Behzad agreed: “Oceans play an important role in regulating the global climate. Temperature changes lead to changes in fish migration patterns and may reduce the amount of fish production, while rising water temperature threatens biodiversity in general. This temperature shift is three times greater than the global average published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

The main factors “Eighty percent of marine pollution originates on land. This can be from littering, dumping, insufficient sewage or waste management, or stormwater runoff. Ocean based sources include maritime activities like shipping, fishing, offshore oil and gas production and recreational boating,” Mulholland said. She said plastic makes up most of marine litter in the world, up to 80 percent in some places. Plastic bottles, food wrappers and old fishing gear are common items that are found as litter around the globe. Behzad also stressed that plastic waste has exceeded reasonable limits in the marine environment, with “80 percent of all floating garbage in our oceans being plastic waste”.

“Reports have estimated that 500 billion plastic bags are used every year, and at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans. Every year, according to studies, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans, causing damage to marine life, fisheries and tourism, incurring losses of at least $8 billion due to damage to marine ecosystems. By 2050, the oceans will carry more plastic waste than fish and most seabirds will have swallowed plastic waste,” Behzad warned. Reducing pollution “These are global problems which need all of us working together to solve. Marine monitoring is an essential part of this process,” Mulholland clarified. She added that we need to tackle these issues by monitoring “the effectiveness of the actions we are taking to make sure we are doing the right thing”.

She stressed that addressing these issues involves individuals and international bodies. “It includes improving waste management systems, promoting recycling and reuse of materials, raising public awareness about the consequences of litter and pollution, and reducing the production and consumption of products where we can,” she said. “There is still plenty of hope… new and sustainable technologies are being developed in many sectors, global emissions reduction commitments are being made by countries as part of the UN climate conference, and a global plastics treaty is currently being negotiated. In areas where restoration projects are taking place, we are seeing nature recover, such as with Kuwait’s mangrove replanting initiative.

But it is crucial that we recognize the urgency of these issues and continue to work together globally to ensure a cleaner and healthier future for our marine ecosystems and the planet as a whole,” Mulholland added. Behzad also pointed to a hopeful future, indicating there are many different approaches that can be followed to develop environmental management. “The most attractive feature of a strategic planning approach is that it attempts to simplify what can be a complex task into simple concepts that are easily understood by the parties involved as well as set achievable and attractive goals,” she noted.

“An increased risk of coastal flooding which could impact low lying coastal areas such as Kuwait City due to both long-term sea level rise, as well as flooding during more intense storm events”. “In this region, marine life such as coral reefs are already closer to the maximum temperatures that they can withstand, so a marine temperature increase or heatwave period could have more of a lethal impact than the same increase in another part of the world where temperatures are cooler.”

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