April Talk: The Pearl Oyster: from national icon to guardian of Qatar's marine environment
Date & Time: Wednesday, April 6th, 2022
Speakers: Alexandra Leitão-BenHamadou, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor at the Environmental Sciences Center, Qatar University
Venue: Doha English Speaking School, DESS location
Synopsis of the talk
Qatar has witnessed a rapid expansion in coastal development, linked to its industrial and population growth in recent decades. While economically and socially valuable, the growth comes with an associated environmental cost and Qatar’s marine environment now faces many pressures. It is now internationally agreed that the assessment of environmental ‘health’, and the design and implementation of measures to improve environmental quality, are best undertaken on the basis of an integrated approach using both chemical measurements and appropriate biological measurements in key sentinel or ‘guardian’ species.
In Qatar, the pearl oyster, represents an integral part of the nation’s cultural heritage and one of the main economic foundations upon which the nation developed. Historically, the pearl oyster formed enormous beds in the western side of the Arabian Gulf. During the early part of the 20th century nearly half the male population of Qatar were involved in the pearl oyster industry, which at present day prices would have been worth an estimated $2.5 billion per annum to the nation’s economy. However, the pearl oyster is not immune to environmental pressures, and as Qatar has prospered and developed coastal urban and industrial areas, pearl oyster populations have significantly declined. Therefore, due to its biological characteristics, ecological status and sensitivity to anthropogenic stress this symbolic species of Qatar’s maritime history is now ideally positioned to be selected as a sentinel species to monitor and assess the health of the country´s marine environment.
[Alexandra Leitão-Ben Hamadou is a Research Associate Professor at the Environmental Science Center, Qatar University. She graduated in Sciences of the Aquatic Environment by the University of Porto, Portugal and holds a Ph.D. degree in Biological Oceanography from the Sorbonne Universities, France. Her main research interests focus on marine environmental genotoxicity, marine biodiversity and aquaculture genetics studies. She has published more than 60 scientific papers and book chapters. In Qatar, since 2014, her main research interests focus on the development of investigative monitoring programs around the use of the pearl oyster, Pinctada imbricata radiata, as a sentinel or guardian species.