The Egyptian government is reported to have committed to extending official protection to the entire Red Sea Great Fringing Reef. The announcement was made on 16 November – Biodiversity Day – during the 2022 UN CoP27 climate talks the country is hosting in Sharm el Sheikh.
Endurance swimmer and UN patron of the oceans Lewis Pugh, who had been campaigning on the issue by swimming across the Red Sea before the conference, was first to break the news. “Huge announcement from the Egyptian government! 2,000km of Red Sea coral reefs will be protected in a new Marine Protected Area – the Great Fringing Reef MPA,” he stated. “I am beyond happy!”
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Before the conference Egypt’s Great Fringing Reef had been named the latest “Hope Spot” and the first in the Red Sea by Dr Sylvia Earle’s marine-conservation charity Mission Blue.
Only about half of the Great Fringing Reef is currently covered by MPAs, but “Hope Spot Champions” Dr Mahmoud Hanafy of Egyptian NGO the Hurghada Environmental Protection & Conservation Association (HEPCA) and Richard Vevers of US conservation body the Ocean Agency had declared their hope of seeing the Egyptian government commit to protecting the remainder of the reef.
The 2000km-long GFR, regarded as an global biodiversity hot-spot, runs along the shoreline of the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, the mainland of the Red Sea Governorate and takes in the fringing reefs surrounding some 44 islands. Previously declared protected areas were Abu Gallum, Nabq and Ras Mohamed in the Gulf of Aqaba, the Northern Islands, Wadi Gimal and Gabal Alba.
“These are no ordinary reefs,” said Dr Earle. “They’ve been identified as one of the most climate-tolerant reefs in the world by the 50 Reefs and other scientific studies. As such, these reefs provide a vibrant symbol of hope for not just saving coral reefs but for biodiversity as a whole.”
“Coral reefs are on the frontline of the triple planet threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” said Dr Hanafy. “In fact, they are the most vulnerable ecosystem of them all, which is ironic as they are also the most biodiverse and valuable of them all.
“We’ve already lost 50% of coral reefs and scientists predict we will lose 70-90% of the remaining reefs even if we manage to achieve the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to 1.5°C – if ever there was a need for hope in ocean conservation, this is it.”
Mission Blue has now declared 147 Hope Spots, covering more than 57 million sq km of ocean.