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Coral Treasures of the Red Sea

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The rich diversity and high level of endemism in the Red Sea is largely attributed to the 2,000 km of coral reef extending along its coastline. These fringing reefs create an intricate ecosystem that is an essential habitat for thousands of fish and invertebrate species that rely on the corals for their survival. They form an ecological niche in which creatures can live, feed and take refuge from predators.

The Red Sea’s reefs epitomize diversity; they are home to more than 200 soft and hard corals. In fact, it has the highest diversity of coral reefs than any other section of the Indian Ocean.

Coral reefs are formed by calcium carbonate produced by tiny coral polyps that populate tropical climates. The environmental conditions of the Red Sea are ideal for the flourishing of coral reefs, while the shallow shelves bordering the sea ensure sufficient light for calcification to occur and for easy photosynthesis in algae.

As breathtaking as the Red Sea corals are, a bleak truth overshadows their spectacular beauty. These primeval ecosystems are succumbing to the multi-pronged assault of climate change, continued polluting of the water, constant oil spillage from offshore rigs, overfishing, heavy tourist development, and other human activities that threaten their survival.

While general information on potential threats is available, detailed sources of mortality and quantitative data are substantially lacking. Despite the fact that most of the coral reefs are in protected areas, mismanagement and disregarding of existing rules and laws pose a serious threat to the diversity of the corals and all the other marine life that depend on it.

Organizations such as The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) and Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) have been hard at work trying to improve the situation. Among their successful projects has been the creation of mooring buoys, which are quasi-permanent anchors fixed to the sea-bed, allowing boats to tie up while at sea without dropping anchors that damage the reefs.

The one major problem these organizations encounter is the lack of overall environmental consciousness and awareness among the public and the industries involved. It is high time that we try and send a message, help raise awareness within the public, and strive to protect our priceless treasures.

*The article was published in the PSC Newslertter, Summer 2012 issue.

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