Aqaba is a major settlement along Jordan’s coastline. Despite its expanding industrial and commercial sectors, most of Aqaba’s population is employed in the tourist industry. Thousands of tourists from all over the world come to Aqaba every year, attracted by its coral reef ecosystems and its multicoloured fish. Aqaba has 100 species of coral and 1000 species of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Unfortunately, this aquatic environment is heavily affected by human activities.
During the last twenty years, Aqaba’s port activities have intensified due to Jordan’s economic growth. The port’s havoc is believed to have caused fish migration to other parts of the Red Sea. Boats and ships disturb fish with noise and vibrations, making them move to another habitat. This is causing a decrease in biodiversity in Aqaba. On top of this, boat anchors fracture the coral and tear away sections of the seabed. Deep anchoring is illegal, however, it is a common practice. Unfortunately, regulations still weren’t passed to make it possible to inspect ships and see whether they are anchoring on permitted areas.
Tourist activities also cause damage to the marine ecosystem in Aqaba. Tourist boats and waterskiing equipment pollute the water, by releasing phosphates into the sea (that are present in fuels that sometimes leak into the water). Phosphates are dangerous because they suffocate polyps (anemones). Fuels that leak from commercial and recreational boats also increase the salinity of the Red Sea above its tolerance levels. Untreated sewage coming from Aqaba’s tourist resorts and overpopulated settlements also pollutes the water, killing fish and aquatic plants.
Swimmers and snorkelers disturb animals, close to the corals. They may also collect coral, as there still aren’t strict regulations in Jordan, as there are in other parts of the world, forbidding this act. These actions lead to the gradual destruction of the coral reef ecosystem.
The government, under pressure from international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as Greenpeace and Green Cross, decided to take several measures that aim to protect the coral reef in the coast of Aqaba.
Firstly, the government started sponsoring the Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan. The Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan was created by the ministry of the environment and is still drawing up plans for environmental protection strategies. These strategies will be put to action in the Gulf of Aqaba.
The government also encouraged the building of sewage treatment plants in environments that are “threatened” by expanded settlement or by tourist activities, some of which are already being built in Aqaba and Eilat (a small settlement on the Israeli coast).
On top of this, the Aqaba city council has created underwater attractions that divert visitors away from coral reefs. They have discarded obsolete army vehicles and derelict ships into the sea, in areas far away from the reefs, so that tourists see them while they dive, instead of visiting the coral reefs.
Furthermore, the Jordanian government has created a protected marine reserve, along 7km of the coast of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba Marine Peace Park has the objective of sheltering fish, molluscs and coral. According to a documentary that I watched, this Marine reserve shelters about 900 species of fish, some of which have come from other areas such as the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.
Coral reefs are an ecosystem which is usually put to pressure, especially because of human activity. The Jordanian government, together with the Israeli government and the Aqaba city council has come up with solutions to tackle the problems in the marine ecosystems.