Red Sea Conservation

By Alice Knight ( courtesy of )

The Red Sea is biologically unique. Since it is narrow and surrounded by desert, it suffers only rare storms and little rain. Thus the reefs are subjected to few natural disturbances. Over one thousand species of fish and a high diversity of corals live in crystal clear waters with tropical temperatures, making the Red Sea one of the world's major tourist attractions. Tourism is essential to the local economy and yet, sadly, diving related tourism is an increasingly common cause of damage to coral reefs in tropical tourist resorts.

Governments and investors need, therefore, to recognise the necessity to protect reefs and strike a balance between tourist activities and reef conservation. In Egypt this is done effectively by the National Parks and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, as well as by bodies such as the South Sinai Association for Diving and Marine Activities and the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), which voice the concerns from the marine-related community.

The Ras Mohammed National Park, established in 1983, was the first protected area in Egypt. It incorporates the Southern Sinai Peninsula area of Ras Mohammed, and its surrounding reef. Following its success, and the growing need for protective measures (in 1967 Sharm el Sheikh was little more than a fishing village; by 1995 it boasted 40 international hotels, 32 dive centres and 240 dive boats), the area has gradually expanded to encompass all marine coastal environments along the whole 250 km of the Sinai coast. In the Managed Resource Protected areas of Nabq and Abu Galum, as well as on the island of Tiran, traditional grazing and fishing by Bedouin is allowed, but no development. Dr. Rupert Ormond, the director of the UK National Facility for Marine Biology Fieldwork (who was instrumental in the establishment of the Ras Mohammed National Park), stresses that tourism aside, fisheries would have destroyed the reef completely by now if it were not for Park regulations.

Regulations in Ras Mohamed

Given the social and economic pressures, the extension of the National Park is a major achievement. Outside the protected areas, the remaining coastal zone has been bought for hotel development. Even on those lands, there are certain restrictions imposed, such as the prevention of infilling the shore (building artificial beaches on top of the reef) and the prohibition of releasing sewage into coastal waters.

Another method has been the introduction of pontoons and cross-reef walkways, to prevent divers and snorkellers from trampling and breaking the reef as they enter and exit the water. A monitoring programme has shown these measures to be effective. Further research in the Ras Mohammed area has found that each diver entering the water from a boat makes an average of eight contacts with corals per dive, of which half are likely to have caused significant damage to the colony. It has been proven that pre-dive briefings, which highlight the importance of avoiding contact with corals can significantly reduce this damage. Responsibility for briefings lies with divemasters and instructors, who must all be aware of the issues and inform divers accordingly. Administration of the National Park is taken care of by the Protectorates Division of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA).

As well as the previously mentioned governmental organisations, there are groups within the diving and marine community who run conservation programs; the South Sinai Association for Diving and Marine Activities (previously the Sharm Diving Union) arrange beach clean-ups and have also organised the collection of Crown-of-Thorns starfish off the reef (while a natural phenomena, these starfish can have population explosions and are lethal reef-eaters). Further plans include the provision of a greater number of fixed moorings in the Sharm el Sheikh area and environmental awareness seminars for developers.

  • Do not collect, remove or damage any material, living or dead, from Protected Areas (corals, shells, fish, plants, fossils, etc.).
  • It is prohibited to drive off marked tracks and to drive any motor vehicles on any beach.
  • Camping is prohibited unless in designated areas (by notice).
  • Do not litter. Place garbage in proper disposal containers or take it with you.
  • It is prohibited to access any closed area.
  • It is prohibited to walk or anchor on any reef area. Please used marked access points.
  • Fish feeding upsets the biological balance on the reef and is therefore prohibited.
  • Fishing and spearfishing are not allowed in Protected Areas.
  • All visitors must leave Protected Areas by sunset unless using a designated camping area.
  • Access to diving areas is recommended at designated access points only. This reduces damage to reef areas.
  • Please take note of any instructions posted in Protected Areas.Offenders are subject to prosecution according to the terms of Law 102 of 1983.

Latest News

CDWS salutes annulment of decree that allowed fishing in national park

CDWS salutes annulment of decree that allowed fishing in national park
Sun, 22 May 2011
Following the annulment of the decree that allowed fishing boats to fish in Ras Mohammed National Park, CDWS can confirm that at 8am this morning, all fishing boats had left the area.

Blue Magazine (Issue 8 )

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