Israel Environment Bulletin Autumn 1997-5758, Vol. 20, No. 4

BINATIONAL RED SEA MARINE PEACE PARK

The Gulf of Aqaba (180 km long, 20 km wide) is a semi-enclosed sea with unique natural and physical features, foremost of which is its coral reef ecosystem, one of the northernmost and most diverse in the world. Yet this highly sensitive ecosystem is threatened by myriad activitiestourism and sport fishing, commercial fishing, shipping of oil and other hazardous materials, wastewater and solid waste disposal, mariculture and industrial development. Increased port development and shipping is likely to increase cumulative pollution and the risk of major pollution accidents. Ill-equipped marine facilities will encourage shipowners to dump oil and sanitary waste at sea. Development of additional hotels and tourist facilities will require enhanced sewage treatment systems. Uncontrolled large-scale mariculture activities may alter the composition of sediment and water in the Gulf. Accelerated urbanization and development threaten to overload the natural resource base of the area and its ability to sustain development, particularly in the tourism sector that relies on clean water, air, beaches and coral reefs.

While research on the Gulf of Aqaba has been ongoing for the last 30 years, systematic long-term monitoring or assessment of environmental conditions in the Gulf has not been undertaken nor has a comprehensive study of its physical and chemical processes been conducted. Without long-term comprehensive data and coordination between the riparian parties, development planners and resource managers will be unable to adopt and implement environmentally sustainable development strategies.

In order for scientists and planners to understand long-term trends and cycles in ecosystem conditions and determine the ecological and socio-economic impact of various management strategies for the Red Sea, essential data must be gathered. High priority information needs include:

* Water circulation patterns;
* Mapping and assessment of coral reefs;
* Life cycle patterns of key coral reef communities and community members;
* Impacts of diving, boating, fishing, shipping and mariculture on coral reef communities;
* Linkages between coral reef, terrestrial and deep water ecosystems.

Addressing the Problem in a Regional Context

Israel and Jordan share 41 kms of shoreline around the northern Gulf of Aqaba. Recognition of the unique and fragile nature of the Gulf has led each country to undertake steps to protect the coral reef and its environs. Jordan has established a marine park off the shores of Aqaba and has designated a protected coral reef strip stretching 7 kilometers on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba tip. Israel has set aside the southern part of the Eilat coast for nature conservation. A 4-kilometer "marine protected belt" lies in the sea, approximately parallel to two on-shore nature reserve which stretch from the southern end of the city of Eilat to the border crossing to Egypt at Taba.

Yet, despite these individual efforts, both countries recognized that joint research, management and cooperation were required to protect the Gulf’s sensitive environmental resources. The initiation of the Middle East Peace Process provided the right opportunity for resource managers, scientists, institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private interests to meet together to discuss research and monitoring needs directed at maintaining or improving the health of the coral reef ecosystems. In 1994, during the Trilateral Peace Negotiation Process between Jordan and Israel with the support of the United States, the two countries agreed to develop a Binational Red Sea Marine Peace Park within the framework of an "Agreement on Special Arrangements for Aqaba and Eilat." The Agreement calls on the parties to "collaborate in research efforts on coral reefs and marine biology, and in implementing comparable policies and regulations designed to protect the coral reefs as a tourist attraction which is soundly managed from an ecological point of view."

With special funds made available by the Middle East Cooperation Program

(MERC) of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and with the full support of the Aqaba Region Authority serving as host, a workshop was help in December 1996 for the purpose of promoting the development of management plans for the Red Sea Marine Peace. Government and park management staff from Egypt, Israel and Jordan attended along with the major scientific and research experts from Jordan and Israel, as well as representatives of the diving industry, environmental NGOs and sponsors from the World Bank and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. The Workshop identified many of the primary management-science issues in the Gulf which need to be further addressed and resulted in a decision to develop a project aimed at addressing these pressing issues.

The project provides an opportunity for Israel and Jordan to work together in order to address some of the identified science and management needs in the northern Gulf of Aqaba. It brings together the management agencies and scientific institutions of both countries to develop and institutionalize a coordinated and collaborative monitoring, research and cooperative management and outreach program. The project involves collaboration between the Aqaba Regional Authority (ARA) and the Israel Nature Reserves Authority (NRA) with the participation of the Marine Science Station (MSS) in Jordan and the Interuniversity Institute (IUI) in Israel as research agencies. Two million dollars for this three-year program are being provided by MERC with contributions in kind from Israel and Jordan, and additional funding by the Jordan Global Environmental Facility sponsored by the World Bank. The project is being coordinated by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The project lays the groundwater for a long-standing working relationship between Israeli and Jordanian authorities by building the technical capacity of environmental monitoring in both countries and by increasing the level of communication between the parties involved. It will bring together the representatives of the countries’ most prominent government and scientific institutions to address their priority needs for data acquisition, data sharing, and analyses of the natural, social and economic activities occurring, or expected to occur, with future growth in the region.

Components of the Project

The project comprises two major interconnected components: development of a coordinated management and educational outreach program and development of a coordinated, long-term monitoring and research program. The project team will pursue these goals through joint monitoring and outreach activities, workshops and meetings, and through other coordinated activities based on agreed upon protocols and methods.

The overall goal of the cooperative management and outreach components of the project is to provide resource managers in Israel and Jordan with the scientific understanding of the basic physical, chemical and biological processes in the Gulf of Aqaba, and the impacts of human activities on those resources and processes. Such understanding will enable them to better assess the environmental impact of existing and proposed economic activities and to effectively initiate and coordinate environmentally sustainable development.

Three primary management and outreach activities have been identified:

Data sharing and integration: The primary goal of the monitoring and research program is to deliver relevant data to the management team. The primary goal of the management team is to seek ways to integrate the data and analyses into their management decision making process. An essential component of this integration is increased communication and coordination between the two agencies in developing their management strategies and plans. Thus, the program will enable these management authorities to work together with the scientific community to develop, manage and analyze a database of the monitoring and research data.

Training Programs: The NRA and ARA will develop and implement several joint training programs for their resource managers and marine park staff. These programs will include courses on database use and management, communications technology, coral reef ecology, volunteer monitoring and resource conservation and management strategies.

Community Outreach/Education Activities: The NRA and ARA will coordinate education and outreach activities that will include public awareness campaigns and educational programs. The management teams plan to produce a documentary film on the Marine Peace Park, brochures about the marine resources of the Gulf, volunteer monitoring and clean-up programs and educational programs for school children in Israel and Jordan.

Research and monitoring activity will focus on the collection, analysis and presentation of scientific data to the managers of the Marine Peace Park. High priority research activities will include:

* a study of the basic water circulation patterns that impact the marine park area;
* comprehensive mapping of the coral reefs within the park
* development of a framework for long-term monitoring of the basic coral reef ecosystem parameters such as percent cover and diversity of coral, sponge, algae and numbers and diversity of associated finfish and macro-invertebrates, as well as basic physico-chemical parameters.

Project Purposes

The overall goal of this project is to foster cooperation and collaboration between Jordan and Israel in studying, managing, promoting awareness of, and protecting their shared marine resources. All precautions will be taken to protect the fragile resources of the region during the course of the project and its related activities so that better conservation and sustainable use of the coastal resources (coral reefs, sea grass beds, associated fish and wildlife, beaches) of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park and the northern Gulf of Aqaba waters are indeed attained. By the end of the three-year project, it is expected that the countries will have purchased equipment essential for the research and management program, implemented a coordinated long-term research and monitoring program, established a user-friendly data management system, developed better communication channels, participated in at least six workshops/meetings/ training sessions, and begun using and disseminating the information obtained to the public. The program, which constitutes the first time in which scientific data will be integrated into a comprehensive management program, will lay a sound foundation for the continuation of a comprehensive, integrated marine and coastal protected area program that will be internationally recognized and respected.

Editor’s Note: Government implementing agencies and key contacts for this project are: Dr. Reuven Ortal of the NRA and Eng. Amer Al-Homoud of the ARA. Dr. Michael Crosby is the Project Coordinator on behalf of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For further information, please e-mail: Ortala@vms.huji.ac.il.