World Ocean Day: Meet the UAE Residents Fighting to Save our Seas

6 mins

This World Ocean Day, discover more about the marine biologists and activists who have devoted their lives to protecting the nation’s underwater world

Falling on June 8, World Ocean Day aims to inspire action around the globe to protect our precious seas that are increasingly at risk from human activity. Coral bleaching, plastic waste and declines in marine life from overfishing are just some of the visible signs of environmental decline.

The oceans are the world’s largest ecosystem, home to 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, and account for more than 97 per cent of its water. They produce nearly half the planet’s oxygen too. If we destroy the oceans, we destroy everything.

On World Ocean Day, hundreds of businesses, non-profits, schools and other organisations host events in aid of the cause, to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030.

world ocean day concept with crystal clear sea water and plastic garbage

But of course, ocean conservation isn’t something that can be done on just one day of the year. Thankfully, the UAE is home to numerous marine biologists and activists who work tirelessly every day to protect our seas and beaches. 

Below are some of the amazing, inspiring and passionate UAE residents who have dedicated their careers, and their lives, to preserving the unique ecosystems of the Arabian Gulf. 

Maitha Mohamed Al Hameli: Manager of Marine Assessment and Conservation, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD)

Maitha Mohamed Al Hameli has worked for the EAD for more than 14 years. One of the stars of Wild Abu Dhabi: The Turtles of Al Dhafra, the EAD’s groundbreaking documentary that took two years to film, she is one of the most prominent Emirati women in local marine conservation.  Citing dugongs as her favourite animal, she has played a pivotal role in the EAD’s campaign to plant 14,000 hectares of seagrass beds and mangroves, and restore Abu Dhabi coral beds by 2030. Selected for The National Experts Programme 2023, the government initiative for Emirati specialists, she is predicted to be one of the ones shaping and driving the UAE’s future marine conservation initiatives. 

John Burt: Associate Professor Biology, New York University Abu Dhabi

Marine biologist John Burt has spent years and years researching how the Gulf’s marine organisms cope with living in the world’s hottest sea. The head of NYU AD’s state-of-the-art Marine Biology Laboratory, his studies of corals, reef fishes, mangroves and seagrass have provided world experts with vital insights into how climate change will impact the oceans in future years. As well as contributing research to the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, John and his team have assisted with multiple local conservation projects, including creating 3D clay-printed coral for Abu Dhabi’s coral rehabilitation initiative.

Tatiana Antonelli: Founder, Goumbook

The powerhouse behind Goumbook, one of the first ‘green’ movements in the MENA Region, renowned eco-conscious business leader Tatiana Antonelli (pictured far right) has made extraordinary efforts to protect the UAE’s beaches and oceans. Goumbook organises environmental programmes such as beach clean ups, ghaf tree planting projects and youth engagement schemes, and its ‘Save the Butts’ campaign has so far collected over 360,000 cigarette butts to be turned into plywood alternatives.

Check out the organisation’s Instagram page for future clean-up dates, or download the ReLoop app to contribute any butts you collect by yourself. In addition to Goumbook, Tatiana hosts Forward Talks, her own sustainability podcasts, and in 2021 and 2022 she was nominated as one of LinkedIn’s top UAE Voices in Sustainability.

Fahim al Qasimi – The Turtle Sheikh: Ambassador, Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project

Known locally as the Turtle Sheikh, HH Sheikh Fahim al Qasimi is famous for his incredible efforts to save the UAE’s turtle populations. An active ambassador for the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP), he is also a passionate conservation activist. The Sharjah royal family member takes part in many of DTRP’s turtle release expeditions, helps care for sick and injured turtles, and delivers talks on turtle rehabilitation across the county. Enhancing his marine efforts even further, he also founded his own sustainable fish suppliers, Seafood Souq.

Toby Gregory: Founder, Arabian Ocean Rowing Team

Famous for completing an historic 5,000km, 42-day unassisted row across the Atlantic Ocean with two teammates, Toby Gregory (pictured bottom right) is an extraordinary human being who is championing the UAE’s fight against plastic pollution. An ultra-endurance athlete and passionate ocean conservationist, his dramatic row from the Canary Islands to Antigua was all done in aid of ocean protection, and completed in partnership with the UN’s ‘Clean Seas’ initiative.

Along with his sea-faring adventures, he also launched the UAE-based ‘Plastic Pledge Project’ that encourages companies and individuals to reduce their plastic consumption, and he delivers motivational talks across the UAE and beyond.


Chloe Griffin: Founder, Chloe Blue Diving Club 

Based in Jebel Ali, Chloe Blue Diving Club is one of the most sustainable, ethical and welcoming sporting organisations in the UAE. Ideal for adventurers who want to explore the depths of the ocean and care for it in the process, Chloe Blue offers far more than just the usual taster dives and open water qualifications. The PADI courses invite you to learn hands-on conservation skills such as how to dive to collect marine debris or plant coral, and it also runs marine conservation workshops and dolphin monitoring trips with the Fujairah Research Centre.

In her spare time, Chloe co-hosts the Oceans Sisters in the UAE podcast. Dedicated to scuba diving and ocean conservation, the one-of-a-kind platform features special guests such as record-breaking free divers, and loads of news, tips and insights.

Marian (Maz) Fletcher: Board Member, Azraq

Named after the Arabic word for blue, Azraq is a homegrown, non-profit ocean conservation group that strives to educate, motivate and encourage environmental action. Sustainability strategist Marian Fletcher is one of the key driving forces behind the movement, and she has helped Azraq collect more than 48,000 cigarette butts, plant over 1,000 mangrove trees, and remove around 1.2 tonnes of marine debris. 

Outside of Azraq, Marian runs her own ‘green’ creative impact studio, Matcha, and she has worked with the UN and the Global Economic Forum on other key issues such as plastic pollution, illegal fishing and deforestation. In between it all, she somehow finds time to deliver lectures on ‘Campaigning for Social Impact’ at Middlesex University Dubai.

Azraq is hosting World Ocean Day beach clean ups in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and registration is free for all.

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