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Sir Bu Nair Corals

By: Keith W

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The coral community at Sir Bu Nair is beautiful, healthy, rich and extensive. The main reefs lie in a continuous arc from the west side of the island to the northeast of the island. Here the coral communities form more than 70% cover in places and extend down to 20 m depth. As the depth increases the percentage coral cover falls but even at 15 m depth corals can form more than 40% of total cover. In deeper water, below10 m depth, brain corals (Faviidae) dominate the coral community (see Photo 1). In the shallows, above 10 m depth, table (Acropora spp.) corals are abundant (see Photos 2-3). Many of the table corals support groups of the citron clown goby or poison goby (Gobiodon citrinus). They are small, bright lemon yellow fishes, which are exclusively found clinging to branches of table coral or staghorn corals (see Photos 4-5) and are not found elsewhere in the southern Arabian Gulf. They can produce copious amounts of poison mucous which probably protects them from predation.

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Sir Bu Nair is a protected area and landing on the island is not allowed. However diving and snorkelling from boats is permitted but take care not to cause any damage to coral communities by anchoring in shallow water less than 20 m depth.


Keith W

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The Emirates Marine Environmental Group have been monitoring the reefs at Sir Bu Nair and have so far found more than 40 species, several of which have not been recorded elsewhere in the southeastern Arabian Gulf such as the vase-like pagoda coral (Turbinaria mesenterina) (see Photo 8) and daisy coral (Goniopora somaliensis).

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In the north of the island at around 5m depth huge coral bommies (Porites cf lobata) occur (see Photos 6 & 7).


Some of them are several metres in diameter and are several hundred years old. They represent some of the largest corals known from the Arabian Gulf.


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The UAE West Coast is known as a wreck diver’s paradise but little attention is paid to the coral reef communities off the coast of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. After the El Nino related coral die-offs, which occur from time to time in exceptionally hot summers, several of which occurred in the late nineteen-nineties, many coastal mainland coral communities have yet to fully recover their former glory. There are some excellent coral reefs at Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi and Jebel Ali, Dubai but access, especially at the latter location, is difficult to obtain. But by far the best example of coral reefs in the southern Arabian Gulf can be accessed at Sir Bu Nair, also known as Jazirat Sir Bu Na’air, which is located some 71 km from Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, next to border with Dubai. The tear-drop shaped island is some 13.3 square km in area with a maximum length 5.3 km and although located off the coast of Abu Dhabi is administered by Sharjah.