8 Countries Are Partnering Up to Save Red Sea Coral Reefs

The threats to coral reefs can best addressed by sharing knowledge and regional cooperation.


(Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock.com)

Coral reefs are incredible eco-systems teeming with millions of living species. In many places, the reefs are suffering from the effects of global warming and local stressors. But the coral reefs of the Red Sea, including the Gulf of Aqaba, are extremely resistant to both.

Recent studies have shown that Red Sea corals are more likely survive ongoing global warming due to a phenomenon called thermal refugia that protects them from the coral bleaching and die-offs that corals in other parts of the world are suffering from. This unique occurrence has led to a group of regional researchers partnering to study, monitor, and protect the ecosystem.

Research partnerships are not unusual in most parts of the world, but they are in the Middle East. The new Red Sea Transnational Research Center was the brainchild of Professor Maoz Fine, a marine biologist from the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. According to a university news release, the partnership will include researchers from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, and Djibouti.

Since Israel does not have formal ties with most of these countries – except Jordan and Egypt – the center will be organized and led by Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). In March 2019, the center was inaugurated by the Swiss foreign minister in Bern attended by diplomats and researchers from throughout the region.

The researchers say that the threats to coral reefs can best be addressed by sharing knowledge and regional cooperation. “Reefs recognize no borders and are affected by any neighboring country. So, we have to take action and coordinate in order to solve the complex geopolitical situation in the region,” Fine told NoCamels.

"The relatively narrow sea is surrounded by countries and people who are directly dependent on the well-being of the coral reefs. At the same time, the proximity of urban areas and tourism to the reef may inflict damage to it if we aren't wise enough to coordinate our actions when using this asset," said Prof. Fine in the press release.

The research center will unite scientists from a wide range of disciplines including marine biology, oceanography, ecology, nature conservancy, civil engineers, and more. The center will use the research facilities at the lab at Bar-Ilan University, the Jordanian Marine Station in the Gulf of Aqaba and the InterUniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat. New monitoring stations will also be created but the locations have not yet been disclosed.

The research center is expected to be operational  within a year

While the region's coral reefs have been able to adapt to changes in water temperature that has so adversely affected other reefs, there are still treats due to fishing, agricultural and industrial waste discharged in the sea, as well as water desalination in this fresh water-challenged region.

"The research will provide policy and lawmakers in the region with scientific analyses for decision making regarding key societal developments and environmental protection strategies," said the University.

The partnership hopes to save the Red Sea reef from the destruction found in other parts of the world. There is also great promise that the research can isolate the genes that allowed the reef to withstand the rise of water temperature so that they can be used to help other reefs recover.

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