Qatar’s waters has the world’s second-largest dugong population and the largest whale shark concentrations in the world.
Qatar is establishing a regional centre for whale shark research, training, and education, local media reported, citing officials.
The centre will serve Qatar and the entire GCC region, the adviser to the Assistant Undersecretary for Protection and Nature Reserves Affairs at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Prof John Man Kon Wong, said to the Gulf Times.
Two offices and one laboratory have already been set up, Wong said, revealing interest by UNESCO to join in on efforts.
“We have to go through the procedures with the UN and the Unesco and hope to complete the whole process within two years,” he noted.
The waters of the relatively small peninsula Arab country Qatar hosts the largest concentration of whale sharks. The gigantic white-spotted fish reached 600 in numbers in 2020 in Doha, a total that is yet to be documented anywhere else in the world.
“We see the largest congregation of whale sharks in the region, north of Qatar in the summer months. Last August we went to study it and we found about 50 of them at a very small spot. They come here to feed on tuna fish eggs and it is actually happening in the north-east water of Qatar because of the geographic situation and the currents,” he highlighted.
Following the feeding season, Saudi Arabia becomes the next stop for the large fish, the last stop in the region before exiting the Gulf regional as a whole.
But Qatar’s waters are a favourite for various marine animals. The characteristics of Qatar make it ideal for marine turtles. Because of this, sea turtles often nest in north and east beaches, and queen turtles frequently visit the sea grass beds to feast, the expert added.
In the Gulf between Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, there is the largest concentration of dugongs in the world, he claimed.
“It is the only peninsula in the Gulf region and we have both the deep and shallow waters of marine life and the currents bring a lot of migratory spices to our shores,” Wong said.
Wong disclosed to the Gulf Times that Qatar is creating a marine protected area to safeguard 30% of its waterways. He added that Qatar has one of the best maritime environments in the world, making it ideal for many different species to inhabit for a while.
“Qatar has the shallow coastal waters and the deepest offshore waters unlike many other countries in the region. Moreover we are in the middle of the region and the migratory birds that move through the region have to go through Qatar. It is the mid-point for them,” he said.
Whale sharks and dugongs in Qatar
The Gulf nation’s ministry of environment has urged the community to avoid approaching shark gatherings if spotted, advising all who make a sighting to report it directly to the call centre at 184.
Any unsettling noises are forbidden near the areas of the animal’s gatherings to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
The giant aquatic animal can grow to up to 18 metres in length and 30 tonnes in weight – roughly the weight of at least two trucks.
Regardless of their size, the fish do not harm humans, and females are generally larger than males.
Authorities in Qatar have exerted efforts to maintain the country’s marine environment, especially following the congregation of the large aquatic animal last year.
In an effort to preserve their stay and protect the environment, Qatar launched a study in 2010 of the journey of whale sharks by installing tracking devices on 12 of them.
Just a year later in 2011, the ministry also launched a project on whale sharks to study their behaviour.
Last year, the ministry monitored the congregation of approximately 400 whale sharks at the oil fields, noting that they mostly fed on tuna fish eggs. Tuna fish lay millions of eggs between April and October in the area, making it a perfect spot for the giant animals to reside.
As for dugongs, Qatar’s waters are home to one of the largest herds of these animals, with numbers of the shy marine mammal reaching over 840, marking the largest gathering of these aquatic animals in Qatar in three decades.
The Gulf nation’s dugong population is believed to have made its first appearance in the Arabian Gulf around 7,500 years ago. However, the aquatic mammal species, the Sirenia family, dates back almost 60 million years.
The aquatic animals are an important player in maintaining aquatic ecosystems, as they contribute to maintaining healthy seagrass meadows, which are essential for fish and crustaceans nurseries
For that reason, authorities are calling on all beachgoers and scuba divers to help safeguard dugongs and not impose any harm on them.