IUCN - Forgotten seascapes and marine tragedies

Forgotten seascapes and marine tragedies

01 May 2011 | News story

Dr Ameer Abdulla’s passion for the sea knows no limits. He works in the most isolated places where political instability and lack of security contrast with the thriving diversity and uniqueness of marine life. Working to preserve this incredible beauty and engage local communities in conservation, he continues his fight to make this world ‘a better place’.

Ameer’s love for the sea and the creatures that live in it goes back to the times when he was a toddler.

“I would go to the seashores and tidal pools of Egypt or Kuwait, where I grew up, and observe crabs, pistol shrimp under the rocks or the juvenile and estuarine fish trapped in pools by the receding tides" recalls Ameer. "I was fascinated by them and their stories. I imagined every tidal pool as its own, separate world, a microcosm of sorts that had a storyline and plot with different marine characters!

At school I did very well in biology but it was only when I realised that I could merge biology and my childhood love for these tidal pool critters that I decided to study marine biology. I discovered coral reefs in the Red Sea of Egypt and was immediately besotted! I travelled to do a BSc in Marine Science in Florida and learnt how to dive there. I then went to the “Mecca” of coral reef science, James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, to undertake my postgraduate work on coral reefs.”

Since then, Ameer has worked on marine conservation science in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef. He has studied the resistance of coral reefs to climate change, identified key biodiversity areas for conservation and designed and developed marine protected areas.

More broadly though, he has been interested in the role that science plays in environmental management. His PhD focused on the ecology of coral reef fish and predator-prey interactions, but his original motivation was to understand the ecological implications of removing top predators from coral reefs through fishing.

Currently Ameer works on understanding how people interact with and affect the marine environment. His work keeps him in the field most of the year either on expeditions or on field projects working with local communities and dedicated partners. He's particularly interested in generating the necessary knowledge that can link global policies, tools and funding opportunities with local conservation needs and management priorities. Ameer believes that fieldwork should focus on developing countries, as that is where the richest biodiversity lies - much of it endemic to these regional seas.

"Countries that are most difficult to work in are most in need of marine conservation science and there is an impetus to address that. My biggest challenge is not undertaking field activities in these areas but attracting the attention of the global community and raising awareness of the plight of these areas. Time is quickly running out for them.”

Indeed, the challenges Ameer faces in his everyday work often go far beyond pure science. 

“You have certainly heard of the seas referred to as the 'tragedy of the commons'. Well, there are some areas that are more ‘tragic’ than others. Areas, such as the Red Sea, are often forgotten or ignored by global policies and conservation efforts because of their political instability. These areas fall through the cracks of conservation efforts and fundraising for them and implementing the work is always challenging.

I remember one marine survey at a border of two countries in such an area, where we were repeatedly shot at with live ammunition by the border patrol. Lots of handwaving, a night in a detention cell, and large amounts of sweet tea later, the misunderstanding was resolved and it became clear that in fact we were not smugglers but marine biologists!"

But even such potentially dangerous situations have not stopped Ameer from pursuing his work.

“These challenges are more than compensated for by the beauty of being in remote locations that are difficult to access. It is a real privilege to witness manta ray aggregations in Sudan, Bryde's whales and hammerhead sharks in the Farsan Coral Reef Banks, whaleshark aggregations in Djibouti, or the impressive fish communities of Yemen. At the end of the day, working with local communities and partners brings a unique sense of satisfaction and a true feeling that one is investing time and energy into making this world a better place.”


Dr Ameer Abdulla is a Senior Advisor on Marine Biodiversity and Conservation Science with the Global Marine and Polar Programme of IUCN. He is also a member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and the IUCN Climate Change and Coral Reefs Working Group.

He has published numerous articles on marine conservation science and management as well as many reports on aspects of marine biodiversity and human impacts on marine habitats.

Ameer can be contacted at Ameer.Abdulla@gmail.com