Egypt and Saudi Arabia work to preserve the Red Sea

A scuba diver from Egyptian eco-group HEPCA installs mooring on the Red Sea floor so ships can anchor without damaging the coral reefs. [Photo courtesy of HEPCA]

A scuba diver from Egyptian eco-group HEPCA installs mooring on the Red Sea floor so ships can anchor without damaging the coral reefs. [Photo courtesy of HEPCA]

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Coral reefs and rare marine life in the Red Sea are among the most abundant in the world, but with changes in climate conditions and environmental pollution putting this natural wealth at risk, countries bordering the sea are now working together to protect it.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt last month signed a joint agreement in Jeddah to work together on a technical level to implement projects to preserve the environment in both countries.

The signing took place during the ministerial meeting of the 15th session of the Regional Organisation for Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (PERSGA), an intergovernmental body whose member states include Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

The collaboration "will be beneficial for both sides", said Prince Turki bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, head of the kingdom's Presidency of Meteorology and Environment Protection.

"Efforts are under way to maintain a clean environment for the Red Sea and life in it, especially in Saudi Arabia, to preserve its natural beauty and resources," he added.

The agreement seeks to unify conservation and preservation efforts as the Red Sea is important to both countries, said Jameel Hassan of the department of wildlife studies at the Egyptian Ministry of Environmental Affairs.

The countries will exchange expertise and research and work together to provide training for environmentalists, he said. Other efforts will include examining the effects of climate change on the Red Sea, fighting desertification, treating solid and agricultural waste and sewage and using recycled waste to create green areas.

"Ecotourism is also attracting attention from both sides, since the agreement includes jointly running nature reserves, promoting ecotourism and activating the role of civil society organisations that focus on environmental issues," Hassan said.

The Egyptian environment ministry has conducted a number of detailed studies to develop ecotourism in conjunction with the Tourism Development Authority and a group of experts, said Saeed Basyouni of the ministry's nature protection sector and coastal administration authority.

It seeks to align urban planning with environmental preservation, an interest Saudi Arabia shares as it has a similar climate, he told Al-Shorfa.

In partnership with private companies, the ministry also is focusing on developing the sector by making way for investors to take part in ecotourism projects, particularly those that deal with environmental reserves, and providing the necessary facilities, he said.

These projects will be introduced soon during a special conference, Basyouni said.

They "will be conducted between the public and private sectors and will not be limited to the coastal areas", he said. "They will include areas further from the shores since the Red Sea is connected and integrated with coastal and desert areas."

Efforts also are focused on finding practical and final solutions for waste, such as building new recycling factories and rehabilitating old ones, Basyouni said.

"These projects will be the nucleus for similar projects in Saudi Arabia, as Saudi experts are taking advantage of Egyptian expertise in this area," he said.

Culture of environmental awareness

The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), an Egyptian organisation that won an environmental excellence award from PERSGA, is one of the civil society organisations working to preserve the environment in the Red Sea area.

HEPCA won the award for managing a system that anchors tourist vessels. The system, one of the largest of its kind, has operated for 20 years and offers vessels a means to anchor without using coral reefs, which damages the coral.

"The award has been an incentive to move forward and gives us the necessary strength to overcome environmental challenges and preserve the Red Sea," HEPCA said in a statement.

Mounif Adel, a scuba diving instructor and coral reef guide at a Red Sea Hotels Egypt, said a culture of environmental conservation of the Red Sea has spread throughout the region via awareness bulletins and lectures sponsored by civil society organisations and the ministry.

Campaigns include cleaning up the sea's sandy and rocky beaches as well as the sea bed, which Adel said he helps with whenever he gets a chance.

"The majority of visitors to the area understand the importance of environmental resources in the area and fully comply with instructions," he said. "Some even take part in the campaigns civil society organisations carry out."

Among Adel's clients, schoolchildren are the most interested in preserving the environment, Adel said, and they make up a large segment of the volunteers who help out from time to time.