Egypt’s Coral Reefs to be Protected
Environmental organizations and divers are working closely with Egyptian government authorities to protect Red Sea coral reefs, according to Egypt Today.
Just over six years ago, a group of Egyptians were caught in Sharm Al-Sheikh International Airport with huge quantities of corals hidden amongst their luggage. As it turned out, they had planned to sell these items for profit. This unfortunate incident lit a “red light” amongst environmentalists and divers as to how much the area needed heavier control to protect underwater particles from being stolen and damaged.
Divers have been diving off the coast of Sinai ever since the 1970s but only some twenty years later did the Egyptian government recognize the environmental and touristic importance of the reef and took necessary steps to preserve the 450 million-year-old coral reefs. "For years, there was no law governing the diving activities that took place off the coast of South Sinai," says training guide at the South Sinai National Protectorates Office Hany El Shaer. He added that divers have been diving off the Sharm Al-Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada coasts for years, but due to the fact that there weren’t any guidelines to protect the underwaters, it was a free zone for all. Corals were being smuggled by tourists who wanted to bring home those magical underwater souvenirs.
In the 1980s, South Sinai and the Red Sea had been discovered as remarkable potential tourist destinations. Hotel and resorts became popular, thus introducing Egypt as a popular tourist destination. Tourists and local divers handled corals freely and profits from selling such corals were made. A decade later, environmental groups and concerned divers were urging the government to enact laws which would protect the delicate ecosystem from damage.
Finally, in 1994 a law was passed tackling different environmental issues such as the outlining of the country's natural protectorates, including the definition of what a protectorate is as well as the limits of each one in Egypt. According to Hassan Afifi, Head of the Sharm Al-Sheikh Diving Centers Union, "When the law was passed, there were no punishments clearly stipulated for the different violations”, thus making implantation of these laws even more difficult.
In response, the Egyptian government formed the National Natural Protectorates Offices to deal with the daily business of the parks. Today, coral smugglers are fined and may also be charged with neglect and serve time if convicted. As for the diving centers, they may be fined or have their license to dive taken away from them. Alongside these measures, there is an effort to also increase tourist awareness of this matter with the hope that the number of violations will decrease.
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)