||Chapter 2 Gulf of Aqaba|
The Gulf of Aqaba, located at the northern end of the Red Sea, is the northermost tropical sea ecosystem. Its oxygen-rich water has a constant temperature of 21-24 deg. C. The Gulf supports a dense population of more than 100 species of corals, 800 species of fish and hundreds of species of crustaceans and molluscs in a fragile environmental equilibrium.
The region’s delicate ecosystem, which is the main source of attraction in the area, is at the same time endangered by uncontrolled development in the region. Future tourism depends in part on preserving the unspoiled landscapes and spectacular seascapes. Transportation and conveyance installations (oil, phosphates) as well as other industrial activities along the Gulf shores, can potentially endanger tourism development in the entire Red Sea area. Eilat and Aqaba are principal ports, with major oil terminals moving millions of tons of oil every year – Aqaba port alone handles between 20-30 million tons yearly. Phosphate, potash and bromide export facilities, naval bases, commercial ports, marinas and pleasure boats, bathing beaches and water sports all place extra stress on the Gulf’s ecosystem, threatening to irreparably damage this most precious asset.
5.1. Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan
A comprehensive, integrated approach to coastal zone management is needed to ensure sustainable economic development as well as environmental protection of the Gulf area. Such an approach is reflected in Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Plan developed by Jordan, and being formulated by Israel and Egypt in conjunction with the World Bank and the European Union. This project facilitates environmental management of costal zone and protect biodiversity, marine and coastal ecosystems throughout the Red Sea area. It is being prepared in parallel to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Strageic Action Programme (SAP) and complies with Annex IV of the peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan.
The Jordanian Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan (GAEAP) proposes 23 actions in six categories: legal and regulatory framework, institutional strengthening, infrastructure investments; protected area management; monitoring and applied research; and public awareness and environmental education. 11 of the 23 actions are classified as top priority actions, including measures to strengthen the institutions and implement curative and preventative transboundary environmental issues.
Specific project objectives include:
- development and enforcement of the legal framework and regulations for the control of transboundary pollution;
- development of regional collaborative mechanisms for environmental management;
- providing safeguards against oil pollution of aquifers and the marine environment;
- establishment of guidelines for development of the coastal zone;
- assessment of the effects of wastewater seepage on the quality and level of the transboundary groundwater table;
- implementation of a plan to control transboundary solid waste impacts on the marine and coastal water resource systems;
- preparation and implementation of site-specific plans for the conservation of transboundary eco-systems;
- addressing issues related to urbanization, tourism development and mariculture.
The Plans component projects address the major regulatory and institutional arrangements required to ensure effective transboundary environmental management:
Israel and Egypt are currently in the process of developing similar environmental action plans.
Due to shipping in the Gulr of Aqaba, there are real risks of oil spills. Whereas the majority of calls of cargo vessles and ferry boats are concentrated at Aqaba and Nuweiba, the oil tanker traffic almost exclusively embarks at Eilat. The contingency arrangement proposed below is based on risks of spills from present ships patterns. The future traffic is difficult to predict and may cause greater risks to the environment and alter the needs for oil spill combat equipment.
A project initiated under the auspices of the Multilateral Working Group and supported by the European Union has lead to the establishment and upgrading of three oil spill response centers in Aqaba, Eilat and Nuweiba Through cooperation among the centers, damage from larger spills is being minimized.
Based on the assessment of risks of oil spills and vulnerability of the coastal zones in the region, the combat strategy adopted is that oil spills will be contained and recovered through the use of mechanical equipment offshore, as close as possible to the source, or deflected to less sensitive parts of the shorelines and cleaned up on the beach.
The project is headed by a Project Steering Committee with representatives from Egypt, Israel and Jordan, plus a EU representative. Oil spill centers for implementation include the Nuweiba Oil Spill Center, Eilat Marine Pollution Control Station, and the Aqaba Port Corporation.
5.3. Sewage Treatment in Eilat
Sewage treatment is a major environmental problem in Eilat. Past practices have endangered coral reefs in the Eilat area. The citys current treatment facilities produces low-quality treated effluents for irrigation in the Eilot region. A new treatment facility is in advanced planning stages. This system, one of the projects of the Development Plan for Eilat and the Eilot region, will be built next to the oxidation ponds, 5 kilometers north of the city limits. This facility will produce higher quality water which can be used for watering public landscaped areas. Flow of sewage to the sea can be entirely eliminated and prevented.
Development of the treatment system will be in three stages. During the first stage, 9 million m3 sewage will be treated. The facility will be expanded to handle 12 million m3 at a later stage and 16 million m3 by the yea2010. Treated effluents will be reused for irrigating public parks in Eilat, for watering new recreation grounds north of Eilat and for irrigating agricultural fields in the Eilot region.
The coral reef habitat of the Gulf of Aqaba embodies an important, complex and rich ecosystem which is currently being threatened. While measures are being taken to protect the marine ecosystem in the Gulf, increased urbanization and development may well overload the natural resource base of the area and its ability to sustain development, particularly in the tourism sector which relies largely on clean water, air, beaches and coral reefs.
The Government of Jordan has established a Marine Park off the shores of Aqaba based on a study commissioned by the Aqaba Region Authority in 1992 by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The study recognized that nearly 30% of Aqabas beaches have been designated to accommodate port and urban needs and uses. The protected coral reef strip stretches over 7 kilometers on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba tip.
The Government of Israel has established the Hof Almog Nature Reserve south of the center of Eilat, running 1.5 kilometers between Nahal Shlomo and Inter-university Institutes Marine Biology Laboratory. A second reserve, the Hof Dromi Nature Reserve is proposed. It continues from the Hof Almog reserve to the border crossing with Egypt at Taba. A 4 kilometer marine protected belt (MPB) lies in the sea approximately parallel to the on-shore nature reserves.
A special Research and Monitoring Workshop, hosted by the Aqaba Regional Authority and funded by the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (MERC), USAID was held in Aqaba in December 1996. As a result of this workshop, Israel and Jordan have developed a project for coordinated management and monitoring of a Binational Marine Peace Park in the Gulf of Aqaba. This 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 Aqaba and Israels Inter-university Institute (IUI) as research agencies. Two million dollars for this three-year program is 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 U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.). Both Israel and Jordan look at this program as the basis for longer term collaboration in the future.
The project lays the groundwork 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 comprises two major components:
- development of a coordinated management and educational outreach program;
- development of a coordinated, long-term monitoring and research program.
b. Current Environmental Management Issues
The Gulfs coral reef system is highly sensitive. Various activities, including tourism and sport fishing, commercial fishing, shipping of oil and other hazardous material, wastewater and solid waste disposal, mariculture and coastal industrial development, pose environmental threats to this special ecosystem. Increased port development and shipping will likely increase cumulative pollution and the risk of major pollution accidents. Ill-equipped marina facilities will encourage ship owners 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.
While numerous small scale research projects have been conducted both in Israel and Jordan, there has been no systematic long-term monitoring or assessment of environmental conditions in the Gulf, nor has any comprehensive study of its physical and chemical processes been conducted. Without long-term, comprehensive data for the region and coordination between the riparian parties, development planners and resource managers will be unable to effectively adopt environmentally sustainable development strategies.
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.
Data collected will help scientist and planners understand the long-term trends and cycles in ecosystem conditions and determine both the ecological and socio-economic impacts of various management strategies for the Red Sea.
c. Goals and Objectives
The overall goal of this project is to provide resource managers in Israel and Jordan the scientific understanding of physical, chemical and biological processes in the Gulf of Aqaba. 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.
d. Proposed Scope of Activities
Three primary management and outreach activities have been identified:
- Data sharing and integration – Through this program the major planning authorities will work together with the scientific community to develop, manage and analyze a database of R&M data. Increased communication and coordination between the Israel Nature Reserve Authority and the Aqaba Regional Authority in Jordan as well as between these agencies and their academic partners (the IUI in Eilat and MSS in Aqaba).
- Training programs: The NRA and ARA will develop and implement joint training programs for resource managers and marine park staff. These programs will include courses on database use and management; communications technology; coral reef ecology, volunteer coordination and resource conservation and management strategies.
- Community outreach 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, volunteer 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 include:
- a study of basic water circulation patterns in the marine park area;
- comprehensive mapping of the corals reefs within the park;
- development of a framework for long-term monitoring of coral reef ecosystems.