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04 Apr  —

Coral Reefs in Aqaba

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Coral Reefs in Aqaba

The Red Sea is the world's northernmost tropical sea and high surface temperatures combined with high salinities make this one of the warmest and saltiest bodies of seawater in the world. The high rate of evaporation and little precipitation together with the lack of rivers draining freshwater into the sea is causing a salinity of 4%, which is significant higher than in other oceans.

Currents are weak and only temporarily available and the tide ranges between 0.6 – 0.9 meters, therefore the Red Sea is nearly tide less. The north part of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba is dominated by persistent north-west wind the driving force for wind-induced currents.

These unique conditions formed a rich and divers ecosystem with fringing coral reefs extending along the coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba. The combination of a favorable climate, warm sea and abundant natural and archaeological points of interest makes this stretch a popular national and international tourist destination, especial for Red Sea Diving Safari Divers and snorkelers.

Corals are the mainly reef-builders, together with coralline algae and some sponges. A healthy reef is home of many other organisms, you will find fish, seabirds, sponges, cnidarians, worms, crustaceans, sea squirts, and sea turtles. Mammals are rare on coral reefs and visiting cetaceans such as dolphins the main exception. Aside from humans, of course, who are regular visitors and admirers of the coral reefs in Aqaba.

Corals have been well known and harvested since antiquity for uses like jewelry, medicine and construction. Additional providing corals important data in climate research, geochemistry and they are used for fish tanks and aquaculture. Often swimmers referring to corals as rocks and the lack of knowledge for the complex relationships leads to the unintentional destruction of sensitive life forms when climbing or holding on it. In ancient time corals were described as stone or mineral, a Persian scholar classified them in the 11th century as animal with the argument that they respond to touch. Still people believed until the 18th century that corals are plants and in several languages the corals are known as "flower animals".

Myriads of polyps, sac-like animals, in a size of few millimeters to few centimeters build a colony in form of a coral group or head. Polyps feed with their tentacles on a variety of small organisms, from microscopic zooplankton to small fish, mainly at night time. During the day the tentacles are retracted and only the skeleton composed of calcium carbonate is visible.

A recent study from the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS) in coordination and with the support of the Aqaba Marine Park of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, the Jordan Royal Navy, GIZ (Germany) and the Ministry of Environment indicates the high importance to support national efforts seeking to announce the corals of Aqaba as a UNESCO natural heritage site.

The research established that at least 150 species of hard corals live along the Gulf of Aqaba’s coastline, 23 of which are hard coral species that are currently considered endemic to the Red Sea. Out of the 23 hard coral species endemic to the Red Sea, 11 are found in Jordan, thus, 7.5 per cent of the species endemic to the Red Sea are found in Aqaba Jordan. The figure is very important and astonishing, because it shows that the endemicity percentage of hard corals in the Gulf of Aqaba is extremely high and a substantial revelation, according to JREDS Executive Director Ehab Eid.

High quality photos of the colorful and unique species of hard corals in Aqaba will be included in a field guide, available the coming months in English and Arabic. Awareness during your holidays in Jordan when diving or snorkeling in Aqaba will contribute to protect the biodiversity and distribution of coral reefs in Jordan.

The coral reefs worldwide are decreasing; already one fifth of all reefs have disappeared and more than fifty percent are endangered. Human influence as overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification and global warming are serious threats to these amazing 6000 years old structures in front of Aqaba.

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