The major threats to the marine environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are related to land-based activities. These include urbanization and coastal development (for example, dredge and fill operations), industries including power and desalination plants and refineries, recreation and tourism, waste water treatment facilities, power plants, coastal mining and quarrying activities, oil bunkering and habitat modification such as the filling and conversion of wetlands.
These determinations were contained in an assessment (see below) of land-based sources and activities affecting the marine environment in the region, prepared by Dr Ziad H. Abu-Ghararah as a background document for a workshop on implementation of the Global Programme of Action in the PERSGA and ROPME regions (Manama, Bahrain, 2-5 December 1996). (This document and similar assessments for other regions are available on the GPA website.)
Physical alteration and destruction of habitats, by such activities as urbanization, coastal development (for example, dredge and fill operations and coastal mining and quarrying, are considered the major environmental threat in several countries of the region - Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt - and are among the most important in Sudan and Yemen.
Jordan. The short coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba is a site of concentrated urban expansion, industrial development and expanding tourism, resulting in extensive environmental deterioration.
Saudi Arabia. A considerable number of large scale coastal construction projects - including recreational facilities, hotels and restaurants - have been developed in the last few years that have caused significant destruction of marine habitats and marine environment.
Egypt. The coastline iof Egypt s a site of extensive construction and habitat alteration, including dredge and fill operations of shallow areas, excavation of artificial lagoons, construction of huge marine structures, and mining and quarrying. Several urban centres have been developed along the coast at Suez, Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh.
Egypt is also the site of the most extensive tourism development on the Red Sea. Large sectors of the coast of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez have been developed into beach resorts. It is estimated that the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of Aqaba will attract over one million tourists during the next few years. Tourism development constitutes a serious threat to both the marine environment and the tourism industry itself, if not planned and developed on a sound environmental basis with the effective enforcement of environmental regulations.
Suspended fine sediments resulting from these activities can inflict widespread damage to coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and other marine life, over distances of dozens of kilometres from the source. On Egypt's Hurghada coast, sediments from coastal alteration activities have spread to extensive fringing reefs, down the coastline and to the adjacent islands and offshore reefs, where they are damaging corals and mangroves. Dredge and fill activities around Aqaba have altered coastline morphology and created a plethora of erosion and sedimentation problems affecting the entire area.
Sewage is considered an important environmental threat throughout the region.
Saudi Arabia. Most of the treatment plants in Jeddah are overloaded and, hence, the effectiveness of treatment is very low, hence, the low quality of treated effluent from the plants.
In Jordan untreated sewage was discharged directly into the Gulf of Aqaba in the vicinity of the port up until 1987, when the city started treating its waste water. The treated effluent is used for irrigation purposes in the vicinity of the treatment plant. Considerable amounts of sewage are, however, being discharged into the Gulf from cargo vessels, tour boats, ferries and private yachts.
In Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal cities of Jeddah and Yanbu, domestic waste water treatment is considered quite adequate. The advanced Yanbu treatment plant produces waste water suitable for irrigation, and only a limited amount is discharged to the sea.
Egypt. One of the main sources of pollution on Egypt's Red Sea coast is the discharge of poorly treated or untreated sewage effluents into the marine environment. Tourist areas located outside city limits have their own sewage treatment facilities, many of which use compact treatment units which operate under widely fluctuating flows, the result of significant variations in hotel occupancy. Treated effluents are occasionally discharged into the sea. Damage to marine life is evident in Taba, Nuweiba and Sharm el Sheikh on the Gulf of Aqaba, and at several localities on the Egyptian Red Sea coasts.
Somalia. Although sewage tops the list of environmental problems in Somalia, the threat is not considered imminent. Nevertheless, because of the untreated domestic and municipal wastes dumped into the sea through the port facilities in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia's Red Sea coast, the handling (collection, treatment and disposal) of such wastes in an environmentally sound manner is considered a priority.
Urban solid waste dumps form another possible source of local pollution in Somalia. A large open tipping site is located right on the coast at Mogadishu, close to the city abattoir. In the rainy season, leachates run off directly into the sea.
Jordan. Solid waste is considered a particular problem in Jordan. The beaches and nearshore reef and sea grass areas of Jordan's Gulf of Aqaba are heavily polluted by discarded plastic and other refuse materials.
Coastal industries in the region include power and desalination plants, refineries, fertilizer manufacturers and chemical plants. These industries and their effluents (oil, organic pollutants, heavy metals, heated brine and cooling water) are considered important problems in every country of the region.
Jordan. The principal industries of Jordan are located along the coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba. These include a 260 megawatt thermal power station, a large fertilizer manufacturing facility, cement plant, a storage area and loading terminal for potash, a tank farm for chemicals, oils and solvents, and an associated port facility. These factories discharge chlorinated cooling water into the Gulf at a rate of 20,000 cu m/h which at the discharge point is approximately 3ºC above marine water temperature, with an as-yet undetermined impact on nearby corals and marine life.
Saudi Arabia. In Jeddah an industrial area comprising approximately 300 small and medium-sized industries is situated in the southern part of the city. In Yanbu, a large industrial facility is located in Madenat Yanbu Al-Sinayah, comprising two oil refineries, petrochemical plants, a power plant, food industry and other small industries. These industries are connected to industrial waste water treatment plants.
Much of the rapid expansion of Saudi Arabia's urban centres has been achieved through the extensive use of desalinated water to meet demands of the population and industry. As of 1992, there were 18 desalination plants operating along Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast with a total combined capacity of 726,343 cu m/ day.
The resulting impact on the marine ecosystems due to thermal pollution and the elevated levels of salt and chlorine in the return waters vary with the volumes of water and the location of the discharge.
Discharges into the marine environment from the Jeddah plants include chlorine and anti-sealant chemicals as well as brine which exceeds by 1.3 times the ambient salinity of the Red Sea, at a temperature of 41°C (approximately 9°C above the average ambient Red Sea temperature).
A power and desalination complex at Yanbu provides potable water for the community within the city and for the industrial facilities, as well as process water and industrial cooling seawater for various industries. The total quantity of cooling water used by various industries is about 190,000 cu m/day.
Jeddah has eight desalination plants which discharge cooling seawater (at about 39°C) and concentrated brine (with a concentration of 50,000 ppm) into the sea, using an outfall channel.
There are four oil refineries located along the eastern side of the Red Sea. Although treatment facilities are provided for all the refineries and data on the quality of the treated effluent is generally acceptable, the refineries poses a threat to the marine environment in the absence of adequately enforced regulations related to effluent discharges into the coastal and marine environment.
In Yanbu, off-loaded ballast water is discharged into the Red Sea after removal of residual oil, although 8.8 tonnes/year of oil and grease are discharged into the sea.
Egypt. Most tourism areas on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba meet their fresh water requirements through the desalination of sea water or brackish groundwater. In addition, most of the Egyptian Red Sea coastal towns have their own desalination plants. These government-owned desalination plants discharge their brine effluent into the sea, which most likely has resulted in considerable local damage to marine life. Tourist facilities outside these towns have their own desalination plants, using causing massive destruction of marine life and key habitats in several locations along the Egyptian coast.
There are two main industries in the Suez area: a fertilizer and chemical company, and a metals and medical glass company. Both discharge their industrial and municipal waste water - which includes elevated concentrations of free ammonia and sulphate and 11,154 cubic metres of untreated sewage per day - into the Gulf of Suez.
Egypt. There are quite considerable agricultural activities in the Suez Gulf. Fertilizer and pesticide residues are discharged into the Gulf as a result of agricultural run-off. The issue of persistent organic pollutants is of particular importance because of the substantial use of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides for agricultural purposes. As mentioned before, considerable agricultural activities have been established in-the Suez Gulf. Fertilizer and pesticide residues are being discharged into the Gulf as a result of agricultural run-off.
Other potential hazards include effluent from the Tokar Delta Agricultural Scheme. The Locust Control Programme of-the Red Sea area in Sudan is probably the largest in Africa and the Middle East.
Large quantities of insecticides are being sprayed every year along most of the coast. Sometimes untested chemicals are used without any follow-up to observe possible residues or environmental impact.
This is a serious issue that needs urgent study.
Sudan. The extensive use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides for agriculture and other purposes renders this area a priority, after the sewage problem.
Yemen. The use of fertilizers and pesticides to increase agricultural production is widespread throughout the country. These chemicals are introduced into the marine environment by the flow of agricultural run-off and drainage and, to a lesser extent, by atmospheric depositions. Information on this source of pollution with respect to both quantity and quality, which would make it possible to evaluate the magnitude of the problem and its severity for the marine environment, is not available, however. In view of the extensive use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides for agriculture and other purposes, this area must be considered as the fourth priority issue.
Somalia. Several types of chlorinated and organo-phosphorus pesticides are used extensively on farms and plantations. The agricultural drainage waters, which may be presumed to contain high concentrations of pesticides, find their way to coastal waters via both rivers and land run-off.
Other types of marine pollution resulting from agricultural growth and development may also be affecting the coastal areas of Somalia. Coastal dune formation and subsequent erosion arising from overgrazing of the covering vegetation has lead to increased siltation, particularly in the southern region.
Further increases in the silt load could have a heavy impact on the fringing reef ecosystem, which serves as a nursery ground for Somalia's artisanal demersal fisheries.
The extensive use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides for agriculture and other purposes is another priority concern in Somalia.
Drawn by the attractive marine life and the favourable climate, a major tourist industry has evolved on the coasts of the Red Sea.
Jordan. Tourism is an important component in Jordan's growing economy, but the physical alteration and destruction of habitats as a result of dredge and fill operations associated with urban expansion, tourist and industrial developments are main sources of environmental deterioration in this area.
Currently, approximately 66% of Jordan's tourists visit Aqaba - about 600,000 tourists. In addition, uncontrolled tourist activities such as damage to corals by anchors, tourist boats, and coral breakage by divers have resulted in significant damage and destruction of key habitats of the Gulf
Saudi Arabia. Large recreational cities and centres have been developed along the Jeddah coastline without any adequate evaluation of potential environmental impacts. The construction of these large projects has required significant dredge and fill operations, which adversely impact the coastal environment. In addition to the direct destruction of marine life and key habitats, the suspended fine materials resulting from these activities can result in widespread damage to marine life. Such sedimentation results in the suffocation of the benthic communities and has an adverse effect on the surrounding ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs) and, as a consequence, a decline in the productivity of the sea as measured by shrimping grounds and other demersal fisheries. The practice of extending plots onto the coast and into the sea can change the current pattern, morphology and substrate, thus affect the marine life, and usually provide new sources of continuous degradation.
Egypt. The coastal tourist industry in Egypt is booming, and large expanses have been developed into beach resorts. The most intensively developed areas on the Red Sea are Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh. Significant tourist development has also taken place at Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba coast as well as at Safag and Quseir on the Red Sea coast, and the northern sector of the Gulf of Suez. It has been reported that areas such as Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh have been developed and exploited beyond their ecological and social carrying capacities and are already showing signs of environmental degradation. Evidence of reef degradation due to tourism and other activities is clear even in areas such as the Ras Mohammad National Park in Egypt.
It is estimated that the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of Aqaba will attract over one million tourists per year during the next few years. Such rapid tourism development may lead to a serious threat to both the marine environment and the tourism industry itself, if not planned and developed on a sound environmental basis with the effective enforcement of environmental regulations.
Source: UNEP/PERSGA: Assessment of Land-based Sources and Activities Affecting the Marine Environment in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 166, UNEP, 1997. Available in PDF format on the GPA website.