ABU DHABI: Elise Marquis became the director of Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue two years ago. Located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, next to the Seaworld theme park, the facility is described as the first integrated marine research, rescue, rehabilitation, return and education center in the Middle East and North Africa region.
In an interview with Arab News en Francais, Marquis talked about her 20-plus-year career in marine research and consultancy, and her vision for the center and the challenges it faces.
She said she has worked on a wide variety of projects around the world, and in the MENA region in particular. A specialist in marine ecology, her research has focused on topics such as planktonic diversity, carbon and nutrient cycling, pelagic (relating to the upper layers of the sea) food web dynamics, the functioning of ecosystems, and coastal habitat restoration.
“My motivation is to understand how marine ecosystems work, how they are impacted by external factors and how they can show resilience,” she said.
Since taking up her job in Abu Dhabi, she said she has developed a research program for her organization and selected the team that will contribute to its success. A lot of planning is required, she added, to ensure that the center is ready for the various projects it will will undertake, which include the use of field equipment, experimental aquarium systems, and laboratory equipment, among other things.
In addition, the ongoing development of the center involves collaborations with government and academic institutions and stakeholders, particularly for its rescue and research programs.
“Our vision at Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue is to lead marine conservation and foster environmental protection across the UAE, as well as the wider region,” said Marquis.
The center is a unique facility, she added, with the ability to develop fully integrated programs focusing on education, research, rescue, rehabilitation and return, to benefit the marine environment of the entire Arabian Gulf.
“By joining forces with the already well-established scientific community and supporting the UAE’s marine conservation efforts, we hope to become a hub where knowledge is shared and passed on to the next generations of marine scientists,” she said, adding that one of the goals is to increase public engagement and inspire people to help preserve marine biodiversity.
This vision will be achieved, Marquis said, through the efforts of a team of researchers and specialists in marine conservation, and the utilization of state-of-the-art laboratories and infrastructure.
The facilities include an experimental marine ecology laboratory, a 345-square-meter aquaculture facility with live feed culture rooms, brood stock, and grow out and larvae tanks. Research teams also have direct access to the waters of the Arabian Gulf using a 12.5 meter research vessel.
The center is involved in a wide range of activities as part of three major programs: education, research, and rescue/rehabilitation/return.
“The public will soon be able to witness it as we are getting ready to receive pre-booked visitors in our facility very soon,” said Marquis.
The center is also working to support Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi’s wildlife rescue network through the work of its rescue, rehabilitation and return program.
In terms of community outreach, and in keeping with the declaration of 2023 as the Year of Sustainability in the UAE, the center is organizing a number of beach clean-up events, two of which have already been completed.
“We hope to expand this type of activities to involve the public in educational initiatives,” said Marquis. “This year, the center will also launch specialized workshops and scientific conferences open to the public.”
One of the main pillars of the center’s work is engagement and the ability to connect with local communities to ensure the programs it develops are beneficial to Abu Dhabi and its residents. Collaborations with other stakeholders in research and conservation are therefore essential to ensure a long-lasting positive impact.
“The best way to achieve this is to implement regulations and monitoring plans with relevant government entities, such as the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment,” said Marquis.
The center aims to develop long-term engagement with authorities, universities and schools, she added, to encourage Emiratis and expatriates to study marine and veterinary sciences and become “the future leaders of marine conservation in the country.”
It has a fleet of rescue vehicles at its disposal, including two custom-built rescue boats and a marine wildlife ambulance, and a team of experts ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its veterinary hospital is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to treat injured and sick marine animals, including on-site medical laboratory. There are also a number of rehab areas for birds and rescue pools for marine mammals and reptiles.