Marine tourism or rather a tourism centred on water bodies and coral reefs is a critical aspect of the international tourism sector. This kind of tourism is widely growing than any other tourism sector specifically in the tropical regions. Marine tourism has been considered as a sustainable substitute for coral reef use, as opposed to the extractive activities such as the harvesting of the reefs and aquatic animals for commercial use. However, overwhelming research has identified that reefs become deteriorated, and they demean the amenity value of dive zones due to intensive tourist use. Recreational diving has been seen to affect coral reefs in two major ways: first, direct contact with coral structures via unintended disturbance leading to coral breakage and damage of coral anchorage during boat collisions. Second is via indirect effects due to distortion of water quality through the addition of toxic substances and increased turbidity.
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The Sinai Peninsula in Egypt is a fascinating tourist attraction site for ecologically desired landmarks. This unique marine eco-system offer major resources for coastal inhabitants such as food, shoreline stabilisation and economic benefits from tourism. Egypt being a developing country has become very reliant on tourism as a foreign income generator. The region around the Red Sea has been targeted for tourism in the hope that it will increase tourism revenue and create job opportunities in the region. However, the relationship between tourism and environment conservation remains unbalanced. Tourism around the Red Sea is environmentally reliant, and the environment is susceptible to the uncontrolled tourist activities (Abu-Hilal & Al-Najjar 2009). This paper seeks to evaluate means to attain a balanced relationship between tourism and environmental sustainability.
The problem statement
The available tourist facilities along the Red Sea, Egypt, are enormous and form a potential threat to the marine ecosystem. Practices such as land reclamation are popular, in spite of the local authority standards restricting development within 30m of the high-tide demarcation. Due to beach filling and other developments, the fringing reef that covered the coastline has been severely degraded. Only a few of the diving sites are accessible to daily diving operations. Following the increased number of tourists visiting Hurghada and Aqaba annually, the possible damage could be detrimental to the marine ecosystem in the region. Since there is the conflict between developmental growth and environmental sustainability, there is a need for extensive review to find out how these conflicting issues can be balanced towards achieving sustainable economy in Egypt.
According to Apostolopoulos, Leontidou, and Loukissas (2014), tourism is seen as an industry with the capability to generate the highest foreign revenues in Egypt. Tourism offers many advantages to the domestic economy, and assists the conservation of the marine ecosystem by issuing an incentive to protect them. However, if tourist activities are not regulated, they can lead to massive destruction to coral systems. To continued viability, it is fundamental that recreational tourist practices are maintained below detrimental levels. This study will utilise an extensive literature review on human impact on coral reefs in Egypt Red Sea. With the current trend of diving activities in the Red Sea, it is evident that coral reef ecosystems are facing uncertain future with more than half of all coral reefs estimated to be threatened with extinction within the next two decades (Camp & Fraser 2012).
Therefore, it is inevitable to continue research in this area, as well as understand its dynamics and any related topic to as to enable the most appropriate conservation of the Egypt’s coral reef ecosystem. This study will focus on major diving spots that are located in Aqaba, Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh. Sharm el-Sheikh is among the most popular diving spot and tourist attraction site in Egypt Red Sea. However, in a bid to preserve the good marine life and the coral with excellent visibility in the Sharm el-Sheikh, it is necessary to control the crowding of divers because may damage the coral reefs.
Review of the Egyptian reefs
Coral reefs are naturally productive and offer a broad range of advantages for humans. However, reefs in Egypt are under threat of indirect and direct human activities. For instance, recreational diving is a swiftly exploding activity among the international tourism sector (Tisdell 2013). As the Egyptian coastline has become more accessible and hospitality facilities improved, the number of tourists diving on this susceptible ecosystem has substantially increased. This spike in demand for diving services has been evidenced by the rise in the number of hotels in the Gulf of Aqaba from approximately five in 1989 to 141 in 2006 (Camp & Fraser 2012). Similarly, the number of boats has multiplied over the years causing damage to the corals. Over fifty genera of corals are now facing extinction due to poor management of diving activities among other human activities. Furthermore, a report by Tisdell (2013) indicates that more than 50 % of reefs face threats from local stressors such as diving, fishing, pollution, coastal development and among other recreational sports.
The Egyptian coastline has a large proportion and range of the coral reef, particularly in the Red Sea. The reefs stretch in the North to the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba to the Ras Hedarba. The Northern side of the Red Sea possesses the largest coral diversity. Live corals occupy an average of 48% of the Egyptian reefs. According to Hilmi et al. (2012), a study conducted in 2004 to identify the motivations for tourists to visit South Sinai indicated the climate was first motivation, followed by water sports, beaches, and good value for money. Diving is ranked fifth, while desert safaris and cultural events concluded list. Surprisingly, in the same study, tourists ranked coral reefs as the most fascinating aspect of their trip, climate, landscape, beaches, and hospitality. This rise in demand implies that there is the need to manage the climate since it is the number one factor attracting foreigners. When the corals and marine life is threatened, there is a possibility of atmospheric imbalance leading to change in weather conditions. Further degradation might lead to global warming meaning that foreigners will be less attracted to these sites in the near future. Therefore, diving should be conducted in a professional way to ensure that corals are not substantially damaged thus posing threats to the marine ecosystem.
Factors accelerating reef degradation in the Egyptian Red Sea
Urbanisation and opening to world trade have led to fast accessibility to the Egyptian coastline. The damage to the coastal habitats in the Red Sea has been minimal for the past decades compared to other regions. This difference is highly attributable to the low development and lack of fast accessibility. However, this is fast changing, and substantial damage has been caused around the Red Sea in the recent years. The natural expansion of cities and ports particularly within the Gulf of Suez has increased accessibility from Europe and other parts of the world (Badran, Manasrah, & Rasheed 2006). According to these authors, the ease of accessibility to the reef site has both adverse and positive implications for the reef ecosystems. Unfortunately, the authorities around the reef sites have focused on the benefits developing from tourist sector without putting into consideration the sustainability of this industry. Such lack of balance needs to be addressed appropriately to avoid damaging the reef to unmanageable extent.
Other human activities include exploration of natural resources such as oil and other minerals. Large oil tankers pass via the Egyptian coast posing the danger of accidental damage to reefs through either collision or oil spills. Exploration is a continued process that might cause huge damage to the coral reefs during installation of exploration equipment. Fishing activities also contribute to the damage of the reefs. The communities living around the Aqaba and Hurghada are economically reliant on fishing and farming activities (Barker & Roberts 2004). Most of the fish are caught using fishing boats and nets. Damage to coral reef is likely to occur when anglers cause direct physical damage to the corals while trampling over the reef when setting nets. Besides, fishing nets keep entangling with corals leading to breakage. Apart from diving activities, tourists contribute to coral reef degradation through waste disposal leading to water and air pollution (Dorgham, El-Sherbiny, & Hanafi 2012).
Review of the local threats to the coral reefs
During visits to the coral reef zones in Egypt, divers contribute to the economy by buying goods and services offered by local entrepreneurs. Diving is estimated to generate about $ 5-8 million yearly while divers cause damage to the coral reefs at a high rate surpassing the value of money generated from the business. Since diving cannot be discontinued, it is necessary to reduce the rates of dives per year. According to Hilmi et al. (2012), unregulated tourism practices vests a huge threat to the coral reefs in various ways. First, direct destruction caused by tourist use of the reefs and second through anthropogenic effects such as water contamination. Major damage is commonly observed within the first 15 meters depth, implying that poorly trained and inexperienced divers do substantial damage to the reefs (Bravo et al. 2015). A study by Brown (2015) shows that the Red Sea no longer stands out as a pristine destination to view the ordinariness of marine and coral reef ecosystems.
Damage to the coral reefs does not influence only marine life alone but also the entire ecosystem. Coral reefs among other aquatic living things are critical components that ensure atmospheric balance is achieved. The aquatic plants absorb excess carbon dioxide released by marine animals as well as carbon entering water bodies through oil spills. Therefore, any damage caused to the coral reefs poses the danger of atmospheric imbalance. This condition may lead to greenhouse gas effect and later cause climate change. When the climate conditions are unpredictable, tourists tend to be reluctant to travel since they are not aware of what to expect. However, since climate is the number one motivating factor for tourists to visit sites around the Red Sea, it is necessary for everyone to take responsibility to safeguard the reef system.
Rates of damage to corals by divers
Currently, Hurghada, Egypt, in the northern Red Sea is the home of the most visited coral reefs for recreational purposes in the region. Due to their increased proximity to Europe, and their diversity, reefs in Hurghada attract about 150,000 dives annually. During the last decade, reefs across the Red Sea have experienced extensive degradation due to intensive diving. In spite of the economic significance of diving practices, there is no adequate quantitative data regarding the relationship between diver activities and destruction rates to coral reefs in the Red Sea region. A comparative study done by Brown (2015) in Hurghada revealed that diving pressure resulted in increased damage to the coral reefs. Findings of this study revealed that divers were observed to contact the reef intentionally and unintentionally with their hands and diving equipment. In most cases, some divers were spotted breaking corals voluntarily and involuntarily. Underwater photographers are viewed as the worst offenders of among reef divers. Divers seeking to shoot videos and take photographs are most likely to use reefs as support to increase stability during the shooting progress (Buckley et al. 2015).
Overcrowding at dive sites may cause an intensive decline of the coral reefs (Attallah 2015). Overcrowding may lead to the reduction of the aesthetic value of the reef and congestion may lead to ecological dysfunction at given dive zones (Wielgus 2003). In most diver sites, the estimated rates of use have surpassed site capacity hence pushing the reefs past their tolerance levels. The implication of such diving practices would probably lead to huge deterioration at the frequently used zones (Thorburn 2013). However, since space limitation underneath and above water surface would likely reduce the divers’ experience and adventure, there is the need to create and implement control strategies that will facilitate responsible use and monitor practices in the sites.
Compare and contrast daily diving boat trips and live aboard safaris
The live-aboard safaris provide divers with the opportunity to access many scenic sites with a superb experience of marine ecosystem. The live-aboard safaris offer a diverse experience across the best dive sites of the Sinai Peninsula such as the Dunraven, SS Thistlegorm, and the Straits of Tiran among other wrecks in around the sea. With a live-aboard, it is quick and convenient to travel to a site than divers on daily diving boat trips. Apart from the adventure, having different diving sites helps avoid damage to coral reefs through overcrowding. On the other hand, daily diving boat trips tend to concentrate in similar locations leading to degradation of coral reefs due to frequent contact and pressure from divers and boats. The live-aboard safaris offer a sense of liberty, mobility and the comfort is unbeatable. Due to frequent diving by daily diving boat trips, their mobility is likely to be restricted to designated sites. These restrictive measures aim at reducing the rate of coral damage.
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Touring on a live-aboard is viewed as the modest way of encountering the distinguished beauty of the Red Sea. The live-aboard safaris follow seasonal variations to ensure that divers experience the best sites at different times of a year or a day. Additionally, during high seasons, the live-board safaris are most appropriate means since they ensure that divers are evenly spread hence reducing the chances of concentrated damage to coral reefs (Tesfamichael & Pauly 2015). The daily diving boats create regions of extreme turbulence causing intense levels of coral damage and abrasion.
Implications of coral degradation
According to Eid and Shaltout (2016), the cost of marine ecosystem degradation, particularly coral reefs and fisheries in the Red Sea, is expected to double annually unless swift intervention measures are implemented. These expenses include losing natural capital, revenue from recreational activities, the cost of coastline management, and the cost of lose of marine resources such as fish. Research show that the replacement cost of a damaged coral reef might go up to US$ 3000 per square meter. Based on the rate of coral reef damage resulting from tourist activities, the total value of replacement is expected to hike rapidly. Since the reef around Aqaba and Hurghada are becoming flooded, the experienced divers are exploring new sites leading to substantial fall in revenue from marine recreational practices (Starkey, Starkey, & Wilkinson 2007). This knowledge is highly published in reports, but it is lacking among the reef management personnel. Egypt’s diving centres need capacity building to implement scientific management principles.
Building an artificial barrier to cover a deteriorated reef along the shoreline is approximated at US$ 12 million per km (Polak & Shashar 2012). Since the length of the affected shoreline is extremely large, the cost of coast maintenance would be quite high. Besides, the cost of lose of fisheries resources and other marine-related resources is likely to continue decreasing following the damage of the coral reefs that offer inhabitancies of the marine animals. The loss incurred in the fish production is estimated to keep increasing if intervention measures are not applied swiftly (Serour 2004). Additionally, the degradation of coral reef resources by human activities could adversely influence local cultures that are highly dependent on coral reef resources.
Factors contributing to dive enjoyment
Research indicates that fish abundance and other marine animals are the attributes that influence the selection of most fascinating dive site (Mewis & Kiessling 2012). Fish abundance influences are perceived as the number of fish species within a particular diving site. Ideally, this translates that there is greater need to preserve the coral reefs since they act as the habitats of the marine animals. When the coral reefs are diminished, there is likelihood that most fish species will become extinct since they lack hiding zones as well as balanced atmosphere. Environmental aspects such as climate and clear waters are also mentioned as attributes contributing to site selection. Good climate and clear underwater visibility are factors that are enhanced by the coral reefs (Marshall et al. 2010). On the other hand, poor underwater visibility and low population of fish species characterise poor diving sites. These sites are also likely to have been experienced coral reef degradation hence lowering the chances of aquatic animal survival.
Intervention measures by diving centres and dive masters
For the past five decades, Egypt has been aware of the need to conserve its coral reefs (Magris, Heron, & Pressey 2015). In spite of the slow progress to initiate relevant measures, the Tourism Development Authority advanced the concepts of ecotourism responsible for local programs for the conservation of marine ecology along the Red Sea. The Egyptian government has collaborated with dive centres to foster campaigns that challenge constructions near the coastline. Furthermore, dive centres in Egypt have come together and formulated a code of ethics and laws to regulate the environmental impacts of diving on the marine environment (Mansour et al. 2013). This code entails laws on the kind of equipment used and the capacity of diving sites.
Following the establishment of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), they have tried to protect the marine ecosystem of the environment of the Red Sea. This program targets the collaboration of divers, dive instructors and policy makers. Therefore, site-managing agencies must facilitate cooperation with stakeholders to implement policies that encourage the awareness creation programs. Since dive-related tourism is an essential income generator, the sites should be managed to keep their aesthetic appeal and biological factors (Madkour 2011). Thus, it is in the best interest of dive operators to facilitate safe diving and with reduced impact on the coral reefs. While park managers might assume policies that initiate zoning regulations to reduce impacts, this might reduce the appeal and tourists would seek alternative sites. To maintain the attractiveness of sites, diving centres have sought collaborative action by engaging all stakeholders in awareness creation programs. Park managers have teamed with stakeholders to make an informed choice of diving zones.
Additionally, the HEPCA continues to orchestrate diver education that enlightens divers of their responsibilities and the need to promote the campaign on minimal impact diving (Jameson et al. 2007). Currently, diving centres have committed to professional training programs that aim at ensuring that they produce the best staff to aid in diving lessons and meet the increasing demand for diving services. Before diving sessions, instructors brief the divers on educational enlightenment about the importance of responsible diving practices. Moreover, diving instructors coordinate the number of divers targeting a particular dive site to ensure that there is no overcrowding. Diving centres have embarked on renovation programs that target severely damaged coral reefs within the diving sites (Hoegh-Guldberg 2009).
For management purposes, it is necessary to adapt the various criteria in reef preservation to minimise the rates of coral breakage inflicted by divers and regulate diving activities in the Red Sea region. First, it is necessary to minimise the number of divers targeting a particular site. This approach aims at reducing the rate of turbulence and contact made on the reefs (Hilmi et al. 2012). Since diving practices promote local economies, regional and national authorities as well as diving operators should discourage activities that impart stress on the coral reefs. To regulate the levels of use and avoid diving in crowded sites, it is necessary to increase the number of dive zones. The reasons should include but not limited to, a desire for a marine experience, interest in a specific marine feature or desire for hobbies such as underwater videography. When such strategies are adopted, diving pressure on particular sites will be distributed amongst various sites hence curbing diver-related deterioration (Hicks et al. 2014).
Second, divers under training or rather inexperienced divers should be directed to less reef populated zones as well as avoid sites dominated by fragile reefs. Training should be directed to more robust sandy zones and shallow lagoons until buoyancy skills are attained to reduce the avoidable damage to the corals (Hasler & Ott 2008). Third, all diving activities should be preceded by an environmentally sensitising briefing to stress the significance of coral reefs in maintaining critical ecosystems and vulnerability of such systems to physical contact. The adoption of a management strategy utilising these elements in the Red Sea may lead to considerable reduction in diver-linked stress at this highly relied and economically crucial tourist destination (Gladstone, Curley, & Shokri 2013).
Moreover, management programs should entail reef protection laws that prevent sewage discharge to water masses and controlling other sources of water and air pollution (Freeman, Kleypas, & Miller 2013). Local and national authorities should assume a more active role by hiring experts to manage the diving sector. For instance, in Sharm El Sheikh the number of boats is widely spread for the entire area, making it hard for divers to avoid contact with corals. Therefore, the number of divers and boats frequenting the Sharm need to be controlled by appropriate policies. Thus, Egypt will focus on improving tourism quality as a means of future increase in the quantity of tourisms.
While there is a substantial amount of research on the direct contact influences of divers and divers boats, there is need to focus on studying the secondary implications on coral reefs such as coral disease, and predation in coral reef ecosystem. Moreover, the ecological and biological success of particular management approaches such as development of synthetic reefs needs to be adequately evaluated to determine if they are proper uses of management resources. However, this study suggests that an artificial reef would be less appealing due to lack of natural marine life and a superb visibility such as the one present in Sharm area.
To avoid the conflict between recreation and conservation along the Red Sea region, the economic implications of the diving industry call for further research in this field. This further research should aim at unveiling plans and strategies that the sector can adopt to ensure sustainable diving practices. Carrying capacity demands should be addressed concerning site-specific elements and management goals. Further research should be done to factor out an alternative source of tourist attraction in Egypt that has substantial value towards the domestic economy. Further research should evaluate the effectiveness of artificial reefs as an alternative to easing crowding in the natural sites. Effective preservation will require the advocating of the adverse effects of diving and increased understanding of the benefits of quality diving. Support programs and guidance should be offered to motivate dive centres to intervene the danger to marine ecosystems.
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