Editor’s note: This month, MPA News commences a new feature – the Manager Profile – to introduce readers to MPA managers around the world and the challenges they face.

Position: Head of Marine Protected Areas (since 2001), Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) of Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates.

Age: 38


  • Served as Deputy Manager of South Sinai Protected Areas (marine and terrestrial) of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, and was Egypt’s national representative for MPAs to the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA).
  • Has taught courses on environmental management, protected-area management and networking, and wetland management to practitioners from throughout the Arabian Peninsula and eastern Africa.
  • Holds M.Sc. in application of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) for environmental studies from Alexandria University.
  • Is a PADI Advanced Diver with more than 700 dives.


  • Manages the 5561-km2 Marawah Marine Protected Area (see box at end of this profile), the first designated MPA in what is expected to become a network of marine protected areas within Abu Dhabi Emirate by 2007.
  • Recommends sites for establishment of new MPAs.
  • Communicates with local people to raise awareness of protected areas.
  • Develops and promotes MPAs as ecotourism destinations and environmental education centers.

Challenges he faces:

  • Managing conflicts among stakeholder groups, including fishermen, oil/transport industries, coast guard, municipal officials, and the general public.
  • Building the capacity of rangers, whose career is fairly new in the Arabian Gulf region.
  • Directing research and monitoring programs to benefit and support MPA management decisions.

Lessons learned, according to Al Cibahy:

  • Lesson 1. Gain adequate social and political support before applying management decisions. “Always avoid abrupt decisions since they are dangerous and will not be accepted by the community.”
  • Lesson 2. Prove the benefits of MPA management to people inside and outside the MPA. “Theoretically, all target user groups receive economic benefits from the MPA and its components. Practically, it is the role of management to emphasize these values. The direct economic value is obvious for some stakeholders, while for others the indirect or intrinsic value of the MPA must be explained. An explanation could start with questions such as ‘What is the value of conserving a mangrove tree?’, ‘What is the value of its shade and shelter?’, ‘What are the links between this tree and the fish stocks, birds’ nests, water quality, etc.?'”
  • Lesson 3. Introduce the law gently. “Do not apply legal approaches to enforce regulations unless public awareness has been developed and alternatives have been provided. Before enforcing a no-anchoring regulation, for example, you should provide mooring buoys or an anchorage area and clearly define this to the public.”

For more information:
Ashraf Saad Al Cibahy, ERWDA, P.O. Box 45553, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 2 681 7171; E-mail: aalcibahy@erwda.gov.ae; Web: www.erwda.gov.ae.

Marawah Marine Protected Area

Year designated: 2001

Location: In the Arabian Gulf at the western end of Abu Dhabi Emirate (UAE), about 150 km from Abu Dhabi City. (The Arabian Gulf is known as the Persian Gulf in many Western nations.)

Description: Includes habitats of national and regional significance (seagrass beds, mangroves, coral reefs), as well as islands and a 160-km coastline.

Socioeconomic importance: More than 700 individuals of about 107 families possess inherited rights to fish in the waters of Marawah MPA. The MPA is estimated to supply more than 2700 metric tons of fish per year to local communities.

Restrictions on human activities:

  • Commercial fishing is forbidden, except by local artisanal fishermen using traditional gear. Fishing must occur at least seven nautical miles from shore.
  • Catch of dugongs, turtles, and marine mammals is forbidden.
  • Any new building, dredging, filling, or other shore-based development activity is strictly controlled.


  • Oil spills are the main threat as Marawah MPA is located within the world’s foremost petroleum production region, the Arabian Gulf. ERWDA has classified all Abu Dhabi marine and coastal areas according to their sensitivity and priority for protection in the case of a spill; Marawah MPA is considered a high-priority area. The emirate has conducted spill-response exercises and trained ERWDA staff and other authorities on response tactics and planning. Discussions to formulate a national oil spill contingency plan are underway.
  • Other threats include development-related impacts, discarded fishing gear, boat anchors, litter, and coral bleaching.

Estimated 2003 budget: 5 million DH (about US $1.4 million)