Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2012
Issue No. 1109
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A safer reef and coast

Mahmoud Bakr on preserving nature while enjoying its many treasures

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Hurghada has lots of treasures to offer its visitors whether those who wish to enjoy its coast or those who prefer to dive deep among its breathtaking coral reefs and colourful fish

The Red Sea coast near Hurghada and the nearby desert are becoming a popular destination for sea sports and safari. With popularity, however, comes a certain degree of environmental concern, according to officials in the Arab Union for Youths and Environment (AUYE). The AUYE, in cooperation with the Islamic Education, Science and Culture Organisation (ISESCO), has organised its fifth three-day Arab environmental forum in Hurghada on 14 July.

ISESCO Chief Magdi Allam said that the Red Sea is the only sea surrounded by Arab countries on all sides, and the largest waterway for fuel supplies in the world. Two million square metres of sea has been filled on Red Sea coasts, a trend that must be discontinued, asserted Allam. He also called for action against investors who violate environment laws and for training workers in resorts and on tourist boats on issues related to the environment.

ISESCO Secretary General Mamdouh Rashwan explained that the event is one of a series of gatherings held to discuss coastal environmental issues in the Arab world to protect against pollution and neglect, as well as encourage the exchange of expertise among Arab countries.

Rashwan proposed improving the work conditions of environmental rangers, including better salaries, moral encouragement, and up-to-date equipment to conduct their work in the best possible manner. He also suggested exchange visits among Arab youths living in coastal areas to discuss upgrading the coastal environment.

Taha El-Eryan, director of the Egyptian Organisation for the Protection of Coastal Areas (EOPCA) in the Red Sea, said his organisation set the no-building zone on the beach at 200 metres from the shoreline. Any installations inside the sea or within this zone have to abide by a strict set of regulations. El-Eryan added that areas of natural protectorates and the dry beds of flash floods are also out of bounds for builders. The breadth of the no-building zone depends on the shape of the coral reef, which offers a natural protection for the coast. EOPCA monitors the seashore to determine which points are receding and take necessary action.

Mahmoud Khalil, from the Environment Department of the Red Sea Governorate, says that the Red Sea is blessed with unique biological diversity, from the coral reef to the mangrove trees, sea vegetation, sand beaches, rock beaches, salt lakes, and wetlands. Thousands of marine species live in the area, including 1,000 types of fish, 250 types of coral, 500 types of fungus, and 11 types of seaweed, as well as numerous types of echinoderms, shellfish, and squid.

Tamer Kamal, chief of the Protectorates Department in the Red Sea, noted that tourism installations, such as hotels, camps, marinas and golf courses, need to abide by certain regulations to protect the coast. Threats to coastal areas on the Red Sea are varied, most prominently those related to construction in no-building zones, illegal land filling, maritime pollution, and illegal fishing.

Sayyed Madyen, chief of the Environmental Affairs Organisation (EAO) in the Red Sea, revealed that Hurghada, Safaga and Marsa Alam suffer from illegal fishing and encroachments on the reef. The EAO is monitoring temperature changes, salinity and bacterial content of the sea in order to detect any seepage of sewage or chlorinated water. According to Madyen, the coast in Hurghada has registered an increase in bacterial content this summer, but the figures remain better than in previous years. The improvement is due to tighter monitoring as well as increased awareness at tourist facilities, which are required by laws 4 of 1994 and 9 of 2009 to abide by environmental regulations.

Mahmoud Khalil Metawalli, a chemist in the environment department of Hurghada Governorate urged the government to provide facilities for the collection of solid and liquid waste along the coast of the Red Sea, to handle the refuse of fishing and diving boats. Metwalli urged for coordination with coast rangers, the police, and environmental officials on the matter, adding that urgent measures are needed to detect sources of oil pollution and limit pollution resulting from boats dumping their oil in the water.

Kamal, chief of the Protectorates Department in the Red Sea, said that Red Sea rangers inspect Safari boats to make sure they have a working treatment station before taking long trips, and even boats taking day trips are now required to have their own treatment stations on board.

Samia Mehrez, secretary of the Red Sea Governorate, noted that due to fast coastal development in the governorate and increase in the number of resorts, Hurghada is now divided into sectors and each is closely monitored by environmental officials. Training sessions and seminars are also held in the city to raise public awareness on environmental issues.

Mohammad Abdel-Wahab, chief of the Abu Salama Marine Society, stated that ecotourism is the trend of the future and since Hurghada houses 148 hotels of a total of 254 hotels in the Red Sea area, with Red Sea areas now hosting 70,000 divers per year, this gives cause for stricter regulation.

Hassan El-Tayyeb, chief of the Maritime Salvage Society (MSS) in Hurghada, stated that his society launched a new initiative to protect the coral reef against pollution and the crown-of-thorns starfish. MSS is currently trying to put together plans for an underwater museum with mock-ups of Pharaonic statues and famous types of fish. Another MSS initiative involves the creation of underwater glass walkways for tourists to enjoy proximity to marine life without getting wet.

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