Submitted by PERSGA’s Dr. Mohammed M. A. Kotb
The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (RSGA) are globally distinguished by their great diversity of marine environments, the number of unique species, and the importance of marine resources to the social and economic development of the region. This region, however, has experienced rapid coastal development in the past four decades. This has been followed, in some places, by degradation of the marine and coastal environments and loss of their potential to sustain the livelihoods of coastal populations. The nations of the region have acted to conserve these environments, and PERSGA was established to organize regional activities, initiatives, and efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
PERSGA participated with member countries in two regional surveys of coral reef ecosystems, the first during 2002 and the second during 2008. Their status report, to be published in February 2010, presents data from the 2008 survey in which 36 sites were surveyed in Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen using the Reef Check survey protocol. This data was compared to that collected during the regional survey of 52 sites in 2002.
The key findings of the analysis for the whole RSGA region are as follows:
- Butterflyfish, indicators of the ornamental fish trade and overfishing, showed a slightly increased mean abundance in 2008 over 2002. These abundance levels however, were found to be lower than those recorded for the Indo-Pacific region as a whole during 1997-2001.
- Sweetlips (Haemulidae), used as an indicator for line-fishing and spear-fishing, showed similar abundances in the 2008 and 2002 surveys. These abundances were found to be higher than those recorded for the Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001.
- Grouper (greater than 30 cm), indicators for overfishing by line-fishing and spear-fishing close to reef areas, showed that mean abundances slightly decreased in 2008 compared to 2002. However these levels were higher than the recorded abundances for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001, but lower than those recorded for the Red Sea in the same period.
- Snapper, an indicator for overfishing by nets close to reefs, showed a sharp decrease in mean abundance in the 2008 surveys compared to 2002. These abundance levels were still much higher than the abundances recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in 1997-2001.
- Parrotfish, an indicator for overfishing and controlling algal growth over coral reefs, had similar mean abundances in 2008 and 2002. Similar abundance was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in the 1997-2001 surveys.
- Lobsters, an indicator for overfishing through direct collection from reefs, were not found at 94% of sites during either the 2008 or 2002 surveys, indicating severe overfishing. Absence of lobster records in 90% of the sites was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001 surveys.
- Long-spined sea urchins, Diadema, an indicator of problems with reef health if in high abundance, showed a decrease in mean abundance in 2008 from 2002. Higher abundance was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in 2000 than in RSGA during 2008.,
- Triton gastropods, an indicator of curio collection, were not found at about 90% of sites during either the 2008 or 2002 surveys, indicating severe collection of this shell. A similar situation was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001.
- Giant clams, indicators for collection as food, curio, and ornamental shellfish, were recorded at about 70% of the surveyed sites during 2002 and 2008. The recorded shells were <20 cm in length, which are difficult sizes for collection. Higher abundances were recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in the 1997-2001 period.
- Sea cucumbers, an indicator for collection as exported food, were recorded in more sites during 2008 than in 2002, but with smaller sizes (mostly ≤10 cm), which might reflect the disappearance of the large, commercial-sized individuals that are targeted by fishermen. Most areas of the Indo-Pacific region were cleaned-out of sea cucumbers by 2001.
- Crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), which can cause major damage to reef corals during outbreak periods, were detected at around 35% of the surveyed sites in both 2002 and 2008, and with higher abundances toward the southern end of the Red Sea. Lower abundances were recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001 surveys.
- Similar mean percentage cover of hard corals was recorded in 2008 and 2002 for the whole RSGA region. Most of the sites had 10-50% coverage. Only 4 sites out of 36 (2008) and 7 sites out of 52 (2002) showed hard coral coverage of 50-70%. Similar percentage covers were recorded for the Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001.
- Nutrient indicator algae (NIA), an indicator of high nutrient input to the sea, showed a sharp decrease in its coverage in 2008 from 2002. According to other global monitoring data, the RSGA region showed lower symptoms of high nutrient loads, such as from sewage pollution.
Some recommendations are suggested as priority actions to assure better monitoring of the coral reef environment which will help in the evaluation of conservation measures taken at national and regional levels. These recommendations include:
- Long-term coral reef environmental monitoring programmes should be developed at the national level (in countries where such programmes are not yet executed), so that monitoring resources can be allocated in a logical manner that best supports management’s goals and assures monitoring continuity.
- For all countries, PERSGA recommends setting up a network of monitoring sites using Reef Check methodology as a first step towards “regional and globally comparable” national monitoring programmes. When this network can be successfully funded and maintained, then sites where more detailed monitoring is suitable can be added as financial and scientific personnel become available.
- Given that the Reef Check protocol is based on community participation and volunteer work, PERSGA and the official environmental authorities in each country can use NGO support to engage volunteers in regular monitoring surveys. Reef Check teams can then be mobilized to survey many more sites than is currently possible.