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Jordan fights to save Red Sea corals that are resilient to climate change

Jordan fights to save Red Sea corals that are resilient to climate change

Jordan scrambles to save rare Red Sea corals that can withstand climate change

  • In Jordan, researchers, activists and fishers are hopeful that their coral reefs — and the life they support — can survive climate change.
  • Corals found in the northern part of Red Sea have been shown far more resilient than corals from elsewhere to warmer ocean temperatures.
  • Coral reefs are only 0.2% of ocean floor but they support 25% of marine life.

AQABA, Jordan – Dozens of tiny, dazzlingly colorful fish swim around a maze of layer upon layer of corals. Divers can find them hiding in a dome-shaped colony as they approach.

Clownfish, butterflyfish, and angelfish can be seen swimming in the warm, clear waters of Aqaba next to a tank from the military. This tank was deliberately submerged in the 1990s. It is one of many popular dive sites. The tank became a home for many marine species, as corals began growing on it.

With the climate change pressures, Coral reefsGlobally, people are dying and bleaching at an unprecedented rate. In the last 50 years, more than half of the world’s coral reef cover has been lost. These heat waves in the marine environment are devastating corals The Mediterranean Sea. Experts predict that global warming will lead to acidifying oceans that could wipe out approximately 90%Corals in the next decade

Researchers in Jordan are more optimistic, however, as corals in Jordan show no signs of mass bleaching.

Red Sea corals. Image by Guilhem Bankc-Prandi at Transnational Red Sea Center.

“Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba can withstand higher temperatures,” says Jordanian conservationist Ehab Eid. “When most of the world’s corals are gone because of rising water temperatures, the corals in Aqaba might be the last remaining reefs.”

Corals can be subjected to extreme temperatures, which can lead to mass bleaching or death. 1-2° Celsius (1.8-3.6° Fahrenheit)Scientists have reached a higher summer maximum than their normal. Found that the reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, can survive a rise of 5-6°C (9-10.8°F).

This is thought to be due to the way corals moved from warmer waters. The Red Sea was cut off to the Indian Ocean by the last ice age, which occurred around 20,000 years ago. The Red Sea was reconnected when the ice caps were removed and the region was flooded. New life forms moved up to the northern end of the Red Sea where temperatures drop significantly. Only the species adapted to the south’s warm waters were able to send their larvae north to populate the Gulf of Aqaba.

Researchers discovered that corals north of the Red Sea were still adapted to temperatures much higher than their normal. Contrary to corals elsewhere, which live close to their thermal maximums, the Gulf of Aqaba coral reefs have a wider range between their maximum temperature and bleaching threshold than most.

But according to Eid, even though the corals are resilient to high temperatures, they’re still vulnerable to local stress from human activity along the coastline.

The Gulf of Aqaba, which is shared between Jordan, Israel and Egypt, is under pressure from urban development and population growth. Pollution that could compromise the corals’ resilience.

Saudi Arabia plans to launch a new initiative. futuristic mega cityThe Red Sea is bordered. Experts have also identified the Red Sea to the south. A supertanker with oil that is leaking warned Anchoring Yemen could cause severe pollution. Israel and UAE have signed an agreement to do so. Oil to be moved from tanks by agreementIn the Red Sea. The deal was made recently BlockadeAccording to the Israeli minister of environment protection, the risks from urban development along the coast and population growth are expected to increase.

Gulf of Aqaba, map courtesy of Jordan’s Royal Diving Centre.

Jordan: Protection concerns

The Jordanian city of Aqaba is the gulf’s largest and most populous urban center. Since corals are close to a major population and industrial center, Jordan’s fringing reefs are One of the most threatenedThe Red Sea.

“Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaport, so there is a lot of pressure from tourism, urban development and industry,” says Abdullah Al-Momany, a marine biologist who manages the Red Sea Dive Center, Aqaba’s oldest diving center.

Al-Momany has seen Aqaba transform from a fishing village to a major tourist destination in his 30 years of diving. “A lot of what I used to see is gone, so we need to do our best to preserve what is left of marine life,” he tells Mongabay.

“Aqaba is unique, it has one of the world’s highest diversity of species per square meter,” says Eid, who has spent years advocating for the protection of marine ecosystems in Jordan, where 157 species of hard corals and more than 500 species of fish have been identified.

Aqaba has seen several large-scale projects in recent years that have aimed to transform the area into a thriving city. HubFor TourismTrade, industry and commerce. Last December, Jordanian authorities Signed an AgreementTo develop a new cruise ship terminal in order to serve passengers traveling to the Red Sea. Plans to build luxury marinas, high-rises, private resorts and commercial centers have stepped up in recent years, but so have efforts to preserve Jordan’s underwater treasures.

First established in the late 1990s to manage and preserve Jordan’s marine biodiversity, Aqaba’s Marine Park Transformed into a protected zone2020

Abdullah Al-Momany established Aqaba’s Association of Divers and organizes cleaning dives. Photo by Marta Vidal, Mongabay.

But pressure on Jordan’s limited shoreline, which spans some 27 kilometers (17 miles), has been intense. In 2006, Aqaba’s main port was moved to the south to an area full of thousand-year-old corals. The Jordanian government worked with the United Nations Development Programme. TranslocatedSave a portion of corals from destruction

“We moved the corals that were considered more at risk of being impacted by the port,” says Nedal Al-Ouran, head of environment, climate change and disaster risk reduction at the UNDP. “Our team managed to transfer around 7,000 coral colonies. The survival rate is quite high, around 85%.”

Al-Ouran reports that the UNDP works with local divers, fisherman, and the local tourism industry to monitor and conserve reefs. If coral reefs are damaged, so are the ecosystems, and economies that depend upon them.

“We used to be able to [catch] big tuna, very big sardines,” says Ibrahim Riady, who has fished in Aqaba for more than 20 years. Riady says that the fish became smaller as the city got bigger. “There used to be much more fish, bigger fish,” he says. He worries about the impact of increased tourism and increasing pressure on the coast on the reefs, fisheries and income his family depends upon for their food and livelihood.

“If the corals are gone, the fish will also be gone,” Riady says. “So, of course, we are worried.”

Even though they cover only 0.2% of the ocean’s floor, coral reefs support about 25% of all marine life. Reefs provide habitat and food for many species. They also support at least 500 million people worldwide, who depend on marine ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods.

Check out these related links: The relentless heat causes Mediterranean corals to erupt

Ibrahim Riady has been fishing the area for more than 20 years. Photo by Marta Vidal, Mongabay.

Efforts to clean, restore and protect Aqaba’s reefs

Leaning over her microscope, Maysoon Kteifan, a researcher at Aqaba’s Marine Science Station (MSS) specializing in coral restoration, says reefs are among the most diverse and most important ecosystems on the planet. “We need to do whatever we can to preserve them. Here at the station we are trying our best to help our environment restore,” she tells Mongabay.

“We started over 30 years ago with small projects, culturing corals here in the lab,” says Fuad Al-Horani, a researcher at MSS and professor of coral biology at the University of Jordan. “Now we have more than 30 sea nurseries, with thousands of coral colonies.”

Researchers are not only restoring corals damaged or cultivating corals in laboratories and sea nurseries but also freeze cells and tissues in a coral bank in order to preserve them for future uses.

With Aqaba’s corals representing the best hope for the preservation of a major reef by the end of the century, the efforts to restore and protect the reefs are not just restricted to scientists and conservationists. Divers are playing an important role in raising awareness on the importance reef conservation.

Maysoon Kteifan studies coral restoration in her office at Aqaba’s Marine Science Station. Photo by Marta Vidal, Mongabay.

“We are doing a lot of cleaning dives, because trash is a big problem here. Plastic bags are killing our corals,” says dive operator Al-Momany, who established Aqaba’s Association of Divers and organizes cleaning dives on a regular basis.

“As divers we have a big role to play in teaching people how to keep a distance from corals and how to protect them,” says Al-Momany, who has also done several projects in schools, giving lectures about the importance of reef ecosystems.

Studies foundCorals wrapped in plastic were 20x more likely than others to be stressed. Plastics damage corals and block the sun.

The amount of trash that divers Seif Al Madanat (Beisan Alsharif) and Beisan Alsharif (Seif Al Madanat) have found under the water has increased over the last two decades.

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In the past six months, volunteers have collected approximately two tons of reef waste. Project Sea.

“We started seeing so much waste, so many masks, plastic cups, containers,” Alsharif says. “It was hideous. We agreed that we had to do something. We felt like it was our responsibility.” Together with Al Madanat, she established Project Sea to raise awareness of the need to preserve Aqaba’s marine ecosystem.

“We have started a movement to change the habits of littering,” Alsharif says. Alsharif said that in addition to organizing cleanups that collected more than 15,000 pieces plastic in a matter of months, the project also created online campaigns, reached out to schools, and tried to inspire younger generations to take part in marine conservation.

“If we keep cleaning it up there will always be more trash, so we need to address the core issues,” she says.

Similar conservation and restoration work are being done in Eilat, Israel’s port city. But for Anders Meibom, a professor at the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who co-authored studies on Aqaba’s unique heat tolerance, efforts to protect Aqaba’s corals from local stresses must involve regional collaboration.

“Given how small the Gulf of Aqaba is, pollution will spread very quickly, it will not respect international borders,” he says.

Meibom established the Meibom Institute in 2019 with support from the Swiss foreign minister. Transnational Red Sea CenterTo promote conservation and research, and to encourage regional collaboration.

Meibom, and other scientists and diplomats associated with the center You are callingUNESCO to designate the Red Sea reef a marine World Heritage Site. He said that recognition would protect corals against local threats and make funding easier for research. It would also help to make better-informed decisions regarding management, restoration, conservation and maintenance of the unique reefs.

“It’s a real hope for humanity to preserve a major coral reef ecosystem for future generations,” Meibom says, “so we need to do everything we can to protect it.”

Marta Vidal is an independent journalist who writes about human rights and social justice in the Mediterranean. Read her previous story for Mongabay, “Planned copper mine raises fears for biodiversity hotspot in Jordan,” Here.

Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: What can seashells reveal about the health of the oceans and their health? Listen here:

Red Sea corals. Image by Guilhem Bankc-Prandi at Transnational Red Sea Center.


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Lamb, J. B., Willis, B. L., Fiorenza, E. A., Couch, C. S., Howard, R., Rader, D. N., … Harvell, C. D. (2018). Plastic waste can be a source of disease for coral reefs. Science359(6374), 460-462. doi:10.1126/science.aar3320

Kleinhaus, K., Al-Sawalmih, A., Barshis, D. J., Genin, A., Grace, L. N., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., … Fine, M. (2020). Science, diplomacy, and the Red Sea’s unique coral reef: It’s time for action. Frontiers in Marine Science7. doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00090

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