The Red Sea corals

The Red Sea is a rich and diverse ecosystem, and one of the 10 most famous diving spots in the world. More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else! Not to mention the dolphins and sea-turtles, or other charismatic wildlife species! 8 countries have access to the coast of the Red Sea, these are: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan and Israel (our recent tourist destination – city of Eilat).

The rich diversity is in part due to the 2,000 km (1,240 mi) of coral reef extending along its coastline; these fringing reefs are 5000–7000 years old and are largely formed of stony acropora and porites corals (mostly stony corals, but also many soft species). Corals are colonial animals which construct skeletal structure of limestone, often forming extensive reefs. Corals, or polyps, attach permanently to a surface such as a rock face, and slowly build themselves the protective structures and networks we see as the coral reefs. They mostly live in shallow tropical waters, as they depend on algae, that live inside them, as a source of food. The algae need sunlight, and through photosynthesis provide oxygen to the coral, and in turn, the coral gives off the carbon dioxide that algae needs (a genuine symbiosis relationship). Fish species are also dependent on coral reef for food, protection and reproduction.

Approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs are dead. About 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to human-related activities. The threat to reef health is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where 80% of reefs are endangered. Over 50% of the world’s coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030! A healthy ocean, which is paramount to the full ecosystem from which we are part, depends on the health of its corals (a map of world’s coral spots attached below). Today coral reefs are under stress around the world, from pollution, over-fishing, disease, digging of canals, unsustainable tourism and broader threats like sea temperature rise, which may alter the pH and cause ocean acidification (associated with green house emissions), causing coral to break easier and eventually bleach (die). And their natural recovery period is taking much longer than in the case of forests or other ecosystems, so their destruction is more lasting!

coral map

Other type of negative impact the Lessepsian migration (also called Erythrean invasion) – the migration of marine species across the Suez Canal (Egypt), usually from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and more rarely in the opposite direction. To this day, about 300 species native to the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and probably others are as yet unidentified.  While some alien species can have a positive impact on an ecosystem, either by fulfilling a need in an area under stress, or by providing an additional food source, others can become invasive, displacing native species and degrading local habitats.

The Red Sea is already one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, owing to high evaporation. In addition, there are at least 18 man-made desalination plants along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia which discharge warm brine and treatment chemicals that bleach and kill corals and cause diseases to the fish. Other countries are not scoring higher in terms of sustainability. Even Israel, one of the smallest countries in the world (however one of most densely populated) but with most advance economy in the region, puts a lot of stress on the environment, due to its limited space, semi-arid climate, high population growth and resource scarcity, which may lead to water shortages and long-term unsustainable practices to produce it, pollution, shrinking of the Dead Sea (a human accelerated ecological disaster), waste production and its disposal practices.

We can always make a difference as tourists to assure sustainability and health of the Red Sea corals! While your presence will give the economic incentive to the authorities to protect the corals through special laws, your sustainable practices in terms of plastic usage, or chosen means of local transportation, or eco criteria of picking local providers of services, or other personal consumption habits, or usage of ecological sun-screams, or underwater coral protection from touching or hitting! This way we will protect nature and we will surely enjoy a wonderful time, allowing future generations also to benefit from these underwater wonders!

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sdrdavCoral Reef and Tropical Fish in the Red Sea, Egypt

More professional pics here: Eilat Underwater Observatory, enjoy!

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