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Protect and preserve the Red Sea before it becomes a dead sea
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 15 - 04 - 2013

Sadiya A. Nadeem
Saudi Gazette

HIDDEN beneath the ocean, coral reefs are the world's most magical, beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Often referred as the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs occupy only less than one percent of the world's ocean surface, yet they offer coastline protection and are the driving force behind tourism and fish industries.
Healthy coral reefs can produce up to 35 tons of fishes per sq. km each year, a marine study reported. The Saudi Arabian Red Sea in particular is known for its exotic, delicate and bio-diverse coral reefs and rich marine life.
Around 1,200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea with around 10 percent not found anywhere else, according to Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA).
Factors contributing to Red Sea pollution
Urbanization and industrialization has not only affected living beings on land but also those that are thousands of feet under water.
Dr. Al-Sofyani Abdulmohsin A. from the marine biology department of King Abdulaziz University said coral reefs which are farther from Saudi Arabia's coastline are healthy and in good condition.
But coral reefs near industrialized cities like Jeddah, Jazan and Yanbu are under severe environmental stress. “Uncontrolled coastal development, dredging, and raw sewage water being dumped into the sea play a vital role in damaging the coral reefs and fishes in the sea,” he said.
A study on the status of coral reefs on the Saudi Arabian Red Sea stated that Jeddah produces more than 800,000m3 of wastewater per day, which is discharged into the sea near the center and south of the city.
Abdulmohsin said effluents from sewage results in excessive growth of algae on coral reefs, preventing sunlight from reaching them and ultimately leading the corals to death.
The study further revealed that desalination plants, which pump approximately 2.27 million cubic meters of salty, hot water into the sea, also threaten the coral reef's ecosystem.
Massive oil spills is another major factor affecting the growth and development of coral reefs and fishes. More than eight accidents, spilling 450 tons of oil, occurred at the port during the last couple of years, damaging more than 600 m2 of coral reefs, the study reported.
Experts said that cleaning oil spills could sometime take years or even decades. Thanks to global warming, climate change is also contributing to the decline and destruction of the coral reefs.
Abdulmohsin said that increase in sea temperature, which takes place due to absorption of carbon dioxide into the seawater, means “coral bleaching,” resulting in the death of coral reefs. Marine experts believe that if emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is not controlled, then it is just a matter of time before coral reefs become extinct. Ironically, another threat arises from the incredible beauty and variety of the Red Sea. A large number of scuba divers and shell collectors dive to exploit its rich resources for selfish gains.
Decline of fish production
The sea is not a trash can where people can empty all their waste and throw leftover food, cans and bottles. People simply do not realize to what extent their garbage is contributing in polluting the Red Sea and destroying the beautiful life of sea creatures, said a marine faculty, adding that destructive fishing methods is another menace.
Stephanie Bodden, a student at the Red Sea Environmental (RSEC) studying sustainability and coral reef conservation, said: “The reason behind the Red Sea getting polluted is most often plastic bags, and fishing nets and fishing lines that often get entangled in the corals. Plastic bags suffocate the corals and harm the sea creatures. For example, turtles cannot distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish for instance.”
Bodden added: “There are also nutrient impacts from hotels/cities and from the boats that go on day trips. For example, toilets are emptied and food is thrown into the sea.”
Fish production in the Red Sea has declined by 30–40 percent, according to Dr. Talal Abu Shoushah, general manager of Jeddah's Fisheries center.
The adviser to the president of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment Protection (PMEP), Dr. Ahmad Ashour, said that pollution rate has reached up to 70 percent on Jeddah's coastline. “About 150 kms of Jeddah's coastline has become useless for sea creatures. If the level of pollution is not controlled or treated then the Kingdom will soon have to import fish and shrimps to meet its demands.”
Protecting the Red Sea
Saudi government authorities, private sectors, and faculties of marine sciences regularly carry out clean up drives of seabeds and shores, said Abdulmohsin.
Christain Von Mach from the RSEC said: “HEPCA is trying to control dive/snorkeling and boat tourism and reveal bad behavior (destroying coral reefs) of some dive operators. PERSGA is trying to set standards for investigating the reefs of the Red Sea region and to cooperate with all countries to protect the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.” Experts, however, said that more efforts are required to keep the Red Sea clean and pollution free. To preserve the coral reef ecosystem of the Red Sea, Von Mach suggests marine protected areas and national parks with no human-induced activities, not even diving or fishing.
“Leave nothing behind. Take all back with you or put it in proper rubbish bins what you bring. Don't throw anything into the sea. If you walk in shallow water or go for a swim, be careful where you are walking so as not to harm any corals,” Von Mach advises tourists.
Some marine experts also call for more awareness programs in public places, schools and universities to educate people about conserving and preserving the beauty of the Red Sea for future generations.

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