Azraq: On the front lines of ocean conservation in the UAE

38

Dubai, UAE: Azraq, a volunteer-run not-for-profit entity, is proud to be celebrating its third anniversary. The grassroots marine conservation organisation was founded in September 2017, and has been on the front lines of ocean conservation in the United Arab Emirates with exceptional ground work and education of the community. The platform was actively involved in beach and ocean clean ups and mangrove tree planting days for the past year and hopes to continue the fight for cleaner oceans.

Founder Natalie Banks left her role as a marine conservationist and scuba diving instructor in Australia in 2016 to come to UAE. After four months of attempting to secure a position in marine conservation, Natalie decided to take the bull by the horns and start an organisation herself from scratch. With the guidance of the Community Development Authority, Natalie formed and developed Azraq, an organisation that educates, motivates and essentially gets people to indulge in a more sustainable form of living for the betterment of our azure treasure.

The Arabic translation of blue, Azraq strives for a cleaner, healthier ecosystem by putting an end to the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the oceans. The organisation understands the need to include people from all spheres of life to participate in the journey towards creating a better world. The inclusive platform has a variety of partnerships, across the board, to foster sustainable practices to help maintain the harmony of marine life. 

Through its extensive volunteer-led programs and education initiatives, Azraq is able to cultivate young minds to become leaders and changemakers in the field of marine conservation, as well as generally inspiring them to be conscious consumers. The organisation’s partnership with schools and universities led to the creation of a youth ambassadors program. The Ocean Youth Ambassador role is for students aged between ten and 18 years residing in the UAE who are passionate about the oceans and in making positive sustainable changes in their community. The committee has been successful in actioning their first campaign – Reef Rescue – a program to educate and raise awareness about the dangers plaguing coral reefs and its effects on the ocean.

Azraq dreams of clean azure waters, free of dirty, non-biodegradable plastic waste, in which a thriving marine life is present. The organisation takes into consideration the various corporate sectors involved that can make a huge impact in conserving aquatic life. In order to highlight the issue of plastic waste, and hopefully get people to think twice about their usage, the organisation launched its #UselessUtensils campaign, in partnership with Freedom Pizza, Lush Middle East, Carluccio’s and Beitfann Studio (Sustainable City).  The campaign led to the collection of approximately 60kg and over 30,000 plastic utensils in six weeks! 

The non-profit has inspired a number of companies across the country to promote sustainable business practices by actively partnering up with them for a range of initiatives. One such campaign – #STOPSUCKING, in collaboration with Freedom Pizza, sought to reduce single use plastic straws from food outlets in the UAE. The campaign drew attention to the increasing amount of plastic waste in the oceans resulting in the endangerment of its diverse marine life. Single use plastic has effectively disrupted the ecosystem and the accumulation of the substance can cause irreversible negative impact. 

Besides campaigns such as planting mangroves, beach clean up, and more, Azraq educates the residents on protecting the specific organisms of the country. The organisation regularly disseminates information regarding the country’s reef diversity and its protection, various species of marine life, etc to help acknowledge and understand the nuanced lives present in the ecosystem. With such a focused agenda and praiseworthy groundwork, Azraq aims to ultimately create a cohesive community that stands together to support and nurture the environment they live in.

About Azraq:

Founded by Natalie Banks, Azraq is a volunteer-run not-for-profit entity in the UAE. Azraq focuses on the protection, defence and conservation of marine life, as well as enables partnerships to be formed with government and private entities and individuals for the good of the UAE and its marine environment. Born in 2018, the foundation’s mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect the marine ecosystem and species. The organization achieves its goals by educating through awareness programs and motivating the community. The word “Azraq” gives credence to the nation’s mother tongue, translated from Arabic to English as “blue”, defining the marine environment that the not-for-profit serves to conserve and protect.