Researchers call for 4000km of Red Sea coral reefs to be declared Marine World Heritage Site by UNESCO

written by Oceanographic Staff

An international group of researchers has called on UNESCO to declare the Red Sea’s 4000km of coral reef as a Marine World Heritage Site and recommends additional measures critical for the reef’s survival.

Led by Karine Kleinhaus, MD, of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), the team have found that the coral reef ecosystem in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba is highly resilient to rising sea temperatures.

Red Sea coral reef

“Corals of the Gulf of Aqaba, in the northern Red Sea, may constitute one of the last reefs to survive the century, so it’s crucial that countries coordinate on Gulf-wide research and conservation efforts despite regional political tensions,” said Dr. Kleinhaus, Visiting Associate Professor at SoMAS. “My co-authors have studied the Red Sea’s corals while based in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United States and Switzerland. Their exceptionally broad scientific perspectives and deep expertise underpin our discussion of the value and significance of the Red Sea’s coral reef, the threats it faces, and the steps that can be taken now to preserve it.”

Rapid ocean heating due to climate change is predicted to decimate 70-90% of the world’s coral reefs by the middle of the century. However, corals in the Gulf of Aqaba, in the northernmost portion of the Red Sea, are able to withstand water temperature irregularities that have caused severe bleaching or mortality in most hard corals elsewhere.

The Red Sea provides for a rapidly growing population of more than 28 million people living along its coastline. However, as coastal towns continue to grow along the Red Sea,  local pressure on its reefs increases dramatically. Some areas of the reef have already been damaged by tourism, overfishing, and coastal development that has led to higher levels of pollution and a decline in coastal water quality.

The team have recommended that UNESCO recognise the Red Sea’s entire coral reef as a Marine World Heritage Site and that regional collaboration on Red Sea coral reef conservation is vital.  Regional scientists and governments should work together to implement transnational research and UN support should be sought for a long-term scientific monitoring program.

The authors have considered political realities of the region, but state that regional collaboration can be effectively facilitated by the Transnational Red Sea Centre, a neutral organisation that was established in March 2019 and is based at the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

To read the full study, “Science, Diplomacy, and the Red Sea’s Unique Coral Reef: It’s Time for Action”, click here.

Photograph by Brook Peterson.

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