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Egypt Submerges Military Equipment in the Red Sea to Protect Coral Reefs

August 11, 2023
Photo credit: Ministry of Environment.

Egypt’s Ministry of Environment declared the opening of three diving spots in the Red Sea, off the coast of Hurghada, on 3 August. The move aims to conserve coral reefs in existing diving sites and promote tourism.

These sites were established by submerging outdated military equipment 30 to 50 meters off the Red Sea’s coast. The ministry’s goal is to protect the natural coral reefs and enhance diving tourism by offering a unique experience that combines historical interest in old military equipment with the beauty of the underwater environment.

Several governmental entities collaborated on the initiative including the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Egyptian Armed Forces, and the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA).

The initiative follows an agreement between the Red Sea Governorate and the armed forces to sink old military equipment and vehicles at different sites underwater and anchor them to the seabed.

“Egypt is a pioneer in reef tourism. Its diving sites are world-renowned for their economic and scientific significance. This is because the Red Sea’s corals are considered one of the last standing reefs in the world,” Mohamed Hanafy, scientific advisor of HEPCA, and the man behind the idea, told Egyptian Streets.

It reached a point where the influx of tourists was more than the coral reef could handle. One site in Hurghada, for example, received more than 200,000 visitors in one year, which greatly exceeds the recommended annual 22,000 dives per site, according to Hanafy.

“It was necessary to create new, artificial diving sites to alleviate some of the pressure on natural reefs. Additionally, this approach will attract divers interested in submerged artifacts. Over time, these sites will attract coral larvae, fostering their growth and integration into the marine ecosystem. This, in turn, will contribute to bolstering the coral population within the reef and consequently enhancing the Red Sea’s fish communities.” he said.

An Ongoing Effort

“The new diving sites will embrace 15 old army machines in certain locations … it took seven years of careful planning to prepare these sites,” Egypt’s Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad said at the inauguration ceremony.

Fouad emphasized that this endeavor required thorough planning and cautious arrangements to ensure the submersion of the old equipment had no lasting negative impact on the ecosystem.

Photo credit: Ministry of Environment.

Egypt launched the Red Sea initiative in June to conserve coral reefs from the rising threat of climate change.

Participants deliberated on the program’s initial planning and conceptualization stage in the first consultative workshop on the initiative, exploring the factors contributing to coral reef deterioration and potential prospects and obstacles.

Fouad revealed that Egypt’s effort to conserve natural resources began years back, wherein officials examined optimal strategies to manage natural resources and involve local communities in the conservation effort.

When asked about future plans for similar sites in the Red Sea governorate, Hanafy said, “Our plan is to create a total of seven diving sites off the coast of Hurghada. So far, three have been created, with each site having five military artifacts. The next four sites will also be designed in a similar manner.”

The Red Sea’s Corals

Red Sea coral reefs cover about 400 square kilometers off the Eastern Egyptian coastline. The intricate submerged forests of anthozoans are home to more than 200 coral species. These reefs are integral to Egypt’s marine ecosystem and its tourism industry.

Climate change, unregulated tourism, overfishing, and disruption of marine habitats have caused hard coral reef cover to decline by 13.6 percent on average between 2005 and 2019.

Reef tourism in Egypt yielded approximately USD 7 billion (EGP 216 billion) in earnings in 2018. The revenue surpassed any other nation’s and was more than twice the revenue generated by Indonesia, the second-highest earner. According to a recent study, visits to reefs were responsible for nearly half of Egypt’s coastal tourism in 2017, with coastal excursions constituting about 44 percent of the overall tourism endeavors in the country.

One of coral reefs’ most significant dangers is bleaching due to rising sea surface temperatures. Bleaching occurs when high temperatures disrupt the mutual association between corals and their symbiotic algae. This leads to the latter’s expulsion by the corals, resulting in loss of color and weakening. While certain corals can recuperate, frequently compromised immune systems and numerous instances of bleaching lead to their demise.

Photo credit: Dereck Keats.

Based on a study conducted in 2020, coral specimens extracted from the Red Sea exhibited resilience to elevated sea temperatures. These samples demonstrated the ability to endure temperatures up to 6 degrees celsius above normal temperatures without bleaching.

Fouad affirmed the study’s findings at the inauguration of the three diving sites, stating that reefs in the Red Sea are some of the most robust globally, equipped to endure escalating temperatures induced by climate change.

“Coral reefs are extremely diverse living organisms capable of hosting more wildlife than any other ecosystem in the world. Imagine the reef as a lush oasis in an unforgiving desert–it gives life to hundreds of marine species. These submerged tropical forests also support the livelihood of millions of humans worldwide. Amidst the challenges, climate change notably looms as a significant peril to this delicate balance. In the Red Sea, Egypt’s coral reef stands as a final bastion—a beacon of hope; it is imperative that we conserve this national treasure.” Hanafy stated.

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