Archive for the 'Red Sea' Category

Shipwrecks support coral conservation in Egypt

Text and photos (c) 2013 Erkki “Eric” Siirila, copyright & all rights reserved. (The article below is a short version of a more complete magazine article published elsewhere.)

In popular diving areas like the Red Sea, sunken ships can take diving pressure away from the heavily used coral reefs. This is the story of five recently located wrecks in Egypt. They do not only relieve the pressure caused by divers on the reefs, they are even in the process of becoming reefs by themselves. Fish and coral have started to colonise the remaining ship structures already.

Four of the new dive sites are 100-250 kilometres north of Hurghada in the Gulf of Suez, one is just a day trip from the city shores. Recently innovative dive guides and underwater photographers like Kimmo Hagman, a Finn based in Hurghada, have initiated week-long live-aboard expeditions to these little-known sunken ships.


The northernmost of the “new” wrecks is SS Turkia (part of the propeller pictured above). The construction of this British ship was completed in Hull, U.K., in 1910. The 91-meter long vessel sank on its keel after a fire and explosions onboard. Everything was not destroyed, and there is a lot to explore, as the image (below) demonstrates.


The disaster took place off Zafarana in 1941. The reasons for the events (air attack or an “ordinary” explosion of hazardous cargo of military material) are not clear. On this wreck the dive depths vary between 15 and 24 metres.


Another little-known wreck, which is extremely interesting to explore, is SS Scalaria (image above), a Shell oil tanker from Britain. The vessel was launched in Newcastle, U.K., in 1921. While being anchored in the Ras Gharib oil production area, close to the western shores of the Gulf of Suez, the ship was attacked by German war planes and destroyed by powerful explosions in 1942. 11 men lost their lives.


Of the main hull structures of this 125-metre long vessel, only the bow (photo above)  and stern can be identified by divers. The ship sits on its keel and most of the dive will be spent at only 10 to 12 metres.


The third big and rarely visited wreck in the Gulf of Suez is the Egyptian cargo vessel MV Aboudy (image above). The 76-metre long ship was constructed in Ville de Tenes in the Netherlands and  launched in 1959 or 1960. Aboudy met its destiny during a storm in 1988. The disaster occurred in the shallow waters of Ras Gharib.  The hull of the vessel, which lies on its port side, is in a good condition. Aboudy is an enjoyable dive: the maximum depth is 12 metres and visibility about 25 metres.


MS Bakr is an easily dived small wreck (foredeck visible above) close to surface in the Ras Gharib area. The vessel was built in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1964, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. Before sinking in an attack by Israeli fighter planes in the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Bakr functioned as a survey vessel in the Egyptian oil exploration. The hull is still quite intact in spite of the missile attack.  The maximum depth is 10 metres. You can explore the whole ship during one visit, as it is only 49 metres long. Visibility  is 10 to 15 metres.


The fifth virgin dive site, which takes dive pressure away from the heavily visited “old reefs”, is MS Hebat Allah (photo above), built in Ingrandes, France in 1985. This 44.5-metre wreck is a small cargo ship which was damaged during a storm and intentionally sunk in order to make it Egypt´s first artificial reef for scuba divers in 2004. Accidentally the ship went down into deeper water than planned and never became everyman´s dive site. Now Hebat Allah can be found sitting upright on sand in the marine area between Small Giftun Island, Gota Abu Ramada and Hurghada City. The bottom depth is 46 metres, and 40-metre visiblity is common (see the second image below).


More information on the new Egyptian wreck attractions can be found on the web sites mentioned below. In addition to several dives on the sunken ships, these internet addresses were used as information sources for this article:

From paper park to marine park

Protected areas are often the first step towards holistic management of coastal zone resources.  When we deal with a limited area, it is easier for us to achieve concrete results and gain useful experiences & much needed success for public support than what is the case when we design a coastal management programme for a whole country directly.

When well implemented, protected area management automatically becomes integrated management: institutions have to put aside their sectoral action boundaries and face the fact that nature doesn’t recognise man-made boundaries.  They also have to deal with user issues which have that same complex character;  all parties, including the agencies, need to be flexible and agree on the protection / zoning/ multiple-use rules through conflict resolution negotiations.  The grassroots voices are best heard through bottom up approaches, while the national authorities need to be professional in their top down leadership.

The Discussion Paper “Linking Marine Protected Areas to Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management:  A Review of Theory and Practice” by Biliana Cicin-Sain and Stefano Belfiore of 2003 provides many useful viewpoints on the linkages between marine protected areas and holistic coastal management.

This NOAA and WCPA (World Comission on Protected Areas) -supported document highlights the fact that although marine protected areas (MPAs) can be a useful conservation step as such, we shouldn’t forget the need to incorporate protected areas into a larger conservation framework.  In coastal areas this means integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). Furthermore, we also need to remember that the World Summit on Sustainable Development called for nations to establish networks of MPAs. The most relevant international agreement for MPA development is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Cicin-Sain and Belfiore paper mentions five principles of “sound governance” of protected areas, which are based on the UNDP principles of good governance.  As these original UNDP governance principles are perhaps easier to understand than those cited by the authors, they are listed below:

  1. Participation & Concensus orientation
  2. Strategic vision, including human development, and historical, cultural and social complexities
  3. Responsiveness of institutions and processes to stakeholders & Effectiveness and efficiency
  4. Accountability to the public and to institutional stakeholders & Transparency
  5. Equity & Rule of Law

Typical for MPA management today is that conservation is not implemented in isolation from real-world economic activities like artisanal fishing.  In the past that was tried – commonly the result was a “paper park”.  As the Cicin-Sain and Belfiore document states, “the challenge, therefore, is not to eliminate these activities, but instead how to manage them in an appropriate manner while preserving essential ecological processes, life support systems and biological diversity”.

As regards the connections of an MPA to its surroundings, the authors mention the need to link all ICZM efforts to watershed planning and river basin management.  If this is not properly done, for example coral reefs will be threatened by sediment runoff from logging areas and construction sites, where topsoil is exposed and washed away during heavy rains.

Other MPA development areas mentioned (based on a CBD / CZMC / RIKZ study) include more emphasis to restoration and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems and recovery of threatened species.  Also encouragement of customary use of biological resources in harmony with traditional practices is a development area in MPA management.  In addition, the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach are mentioned as key concepts to be highlighted in MPA development. Emergency response measures are increasingly needed for situations in which MPA biodiversity is under sudden and serious threat.

What uses and activities are threatening our MPAs?  The Cicin-Sain and Belfiore Discussion Paper summarises the threats in the following manner:

Coastal and ocean uses affecting MPAs:

  • Navigation and communications (shipping, port and harbour development, navigational aids, communication cables)
  • Exploitation of living marine resources
  • Mineral and energy resources extraction
  • Tourism and recreation
  • Coastal infrastructure development
  • Pollution and waste disposal
  • Military activities
  • Research

Inland activities affecting MPAs:

  • Agriculture
  • Forestry
  • Mining
  • River diversions, damming, other alterations
  • Industrial (point source) waste
  • Nonpoint sources of pollution
  • Atmospheric deposition of vehicle and powerplant emissions
  • Alteration of wetlands
  • Construction of human settlements and roads

Marine park management is a constant learning and adaptation process in a changing world. Photo from an Egyptian Red Sea park off Hurghada, (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

Copenhagen didn’t save the coastal zone

The UN conference on climate change held in Copenhagen managed to agree on some important climate issues. Nevertheless, the results reached on 19 December, 2009, are general and leave most of the specific work for the future. The conference wasn´t the breakthrough expected by many observers and didn´t manage to stop the climate change.  The final document isn’t an internationally binding agreement. It´s just an accord.

The good thing is that more than ever the need to control the climate change is understood by the nations. In the final document all the participating countries underline that climate change is a serious environmental problem, which needs to be addressed.

The Copenhagen Accord includes the following elements:

1. The overall goal is that the temperature increase of our planet shouldn´t exceed two degrees Celcius.

2. Both the industrialised and developing countries will present national plans on how to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. These plans needs to be prepared in January 2010.

3. The developing countries will receive fresh climate funds and technology worth 30 billion U.S. dollars for the period 2010-2012. The level of long term annual aid will increase to 100 billion U.S. dollars by the year 2020.

4. The international control of emission cuts will improve. Developing countries need to report once in every two years.

The UN climate negotiations will continue in Mexico in 2010. New, concrete results would benefit the conservation of our coastal and marine ecosystems.

The Red Sea coral reefs remain endangered. Photo (c) 2009 Erkki Siirila.