Strategic Context and Rationale 

Environmental Status: The Region contains some of the most unique and important coastal and marine environments in the world. The Red Sea is one of the most important repositories of marine biodiversity. Species endemism is extremely high. The Socotra Archipelago is of global significance for island biodiversity and species endemism. The waters of the Region support many internationally important species, notably marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. The coastal marine environments of the Region consist of arid coastal zone, coastal wetlands, mangroves, sea-grass and coral reefs. These contrasting ecosystems are the basis of much of the Region’s rich and unique biodiversity, its fisheries production, its conservation and recreational values. They are also vital to the livelihood of the coastal populations; they stabilize and protect the coastline, and buffer changes in water quality. These ecosystems are interconnected; a decline in the health of one will have impacts on the others. PERSGA provides the mechanisms to address management of environmental issues that are most effectively administered on a trans-boundary basis. The launching of the Strategic Action Plan in 1999 showcased the benefits that can result from consistent strategy, effective development of joint actions, transfer of experience and collective training.

 Threats: Development & disturbance: Coastal vegetation, intertidal and near-shore sub-tidal habitats (including coral reefs) have been lost or degraded as a result of port, industrial, urban, aquaculture and tourist developments. Urban growth rates are high. Dumping of solid waste is a major problem. Divers and souvenir collectors have damaged coral reefs. Local recreational use destroys coastal vegetation and threatens coastal dune stability. Fishing: Declines in catches are reported from several sectors of the commercial and industrial fisheries. Poaching and habitat destruction by foreign vessels is occurring. Foreign industrial trawlers have caused major habitat destruction. Large amounts of by-catch from net fishing, including turtles, dugong, dolphins and fish, are discarded. Seabirds are threatened by hunting, disturbance and habitat destruction. Production and transport of oil: These are the major sources of marine and coastal pollution. Most of the oil produced from both inland and offshore wells is exported (local refining and consumption account for less than 10% of production), with over 100 million tons of oil transported through the Red Sea annually. Sixty percent of the world’s oil is transported through the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. In addition, there are leakages, sludge and seismic disturbances from oil fields and wells in Gulf of Suez. Maritime traffic: The high volume of ship traffic has led to chronic marine pollution resulting from Illegal discharges of oily ballast water, tank washings, oily sludge, accidental spillages; vessel sewage and solid waste. Siltation from passing ship traffic degrades coral reefs. The combination of extensive coral reefs, heavy maritime traffic, and limited navigational markers presents problems for navigation in some areas. There are also high-risk zones for ship navigation within the Red Sea. Industrial development: Industrial activities including oil refineries, desalination plants, power stations, and port are scattered widely along the coasts. Key sources of industrial pollution include; heated cooling water from industrial, power and desalination plants; unregulated discharge of industrial waste products; disposal of vehicle waste oil. In many cases major industrial facilities have been sited without regard to their potential environmental impact on groundwater quality, air quality and coastal environments. Tourism: The negative impacts of coastal tourism include anchor damage to corals by tourist boats, coral breakage by divers, souvenir collecting, and habitat damage from off-road vehicles. Indirect impacts occur with the physical destruction of coastal habitats for construction works, dredging, and reclamation, pollution from waste-water discharge; and over-exploitation of fish and shellfish to meet increased demand of the food and souvenir markets.

 Underlying causes: Underlying these threats are a number of structural issues reflected in different degrees in the Region’s member states. These include: a lack of integrated planning and management; the strong sectoral nature of government; outdated, inadequate, or poorly maintained infrastructure; lack of awareness and management-related information. Climate Change: In addition, the impacts of climate change will exacerbate the existing anthropogenic threats. Sea level rise could increase erosion of beaches, damage coastal structures, decrease hydraulic gradients and reduce the efficiency of power stations and municipal drainage systems. Coastal ecosystems face inundation by sea level rise and coral reefs are at particular risk from sea level rise, elevated CO2 and changing temperatures.

The Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden