Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Mapping the underwater world of the Red Sea

<img alt=“Coral reefs in Dahab, Egypt” align=RIGHT src=“” width=“250” height=“187” />

The Red Sea is home to some of the most wonderful and unique coral reefs in the world, attracting thousands of divers and sea lovers from around the world every year. However, these same reefs are some of the least researched and documented, according to Yossi Loya, visiting professor at the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, UCLA, Los Angles.

But now, using a combination of satellite, aerial and ship-based techniques, researchers managed to map the coral reefs of the Red Sea in unprecedented detail.

The map covers 25,000 square kilometres, spanning from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and even all the way to Yemen. It is the second biggest project to map coral reefs, and the most accurate one to date.

Work on this little known area has brought new discoveries. Sam Purkis of the National Coral Reef Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach, Florida, commented that they did not even have names for some of the patterns found.

But this same region, which many visitors call a majestic underground kingdom, is also one of the most stressed ecological systems in the world. A map released in 2008 showing human impacts on the ocean show the Red Sea to be between heavily impacted to very heavily impacted.

Oil rigs, tourism, climate change, and pollution have all contributed to harming the coral reefs here. And the lack of research means that there is also a lack of conservation efforts, since these need to be coordinated based on the areas most in need.

Hopefully this map will pave the way to understanding just how affected this region is. The researchers plan to map the area again in 2012 or 2013, and see how things have changed. Maybe this will help show what areas need the most urgent conservation work.

However, in the meantime, it is important to build on this detailed map to try to understand this area more. For many countries, such as Egypt, the Red Sea has a huge economic value through tourism and thus it is in their best interest to increase research and preservation of this important resource.


  1. Report this comment

    Joseph Franke said:

    Dear Mohammed,

    Great work. I agree with your comments.

    Today I see clear evidence of the progressive decline of reefs in more developed areas like Jeddah. Activities like, poorly planned developments, line fishing, spear fishing, anchoring, and diving related coral damage can quickly destroy a reef and all the sea life that depends on it.

    It is clear that a special effort must be made to protect the reefs before they are damaged beyond repair. Similar programs to protect reefs have lead to a recovery of both coral and fish life. These protected reefs are valuable breeding areas that insure that breeding stocks and marine diversity of the region are not destroyed. These same reefs can be enjoyed by hundreds of divers now and in the future, but we must act soon or this beautiful resource may be lost.

    A National Marine Park system could be used to protect the reefs, promote good diving practices and provide a valuable resource for future sport tourism. The healthy sport of diving can provide the citizens of Saudi Arabia and their guests with the opportunity to enjoy the Red Sea’s “corridor of marvels” that Jacques Cousteau discovered during his exploration. It is our responsibility to protect this valuable resource. We can find a way to protect and improve the quality of the reefs and at the same time enjoy viewing their wonders.

    For more information on a model for a National Park System go to: