by Hana Namrouqa | Sep 06, 2012

AMMAN — Marine biologists and divers in the Gulf of Aqaba are on alert after widespread bleaching of coral reefs was detected off the Egyptian coast near Hurghada, the Aqaba Marine Park (AMP) said on Thursday.

AMP teams are monitoring the Gulf of Aqaba to ensure that the phenomenon of coral bleaching is not affecting the coral reefs in Aqaba as well, AMP Director Abdullah Abu Awali said.

“We have issued letters to all diving centres in Aqaba calling on them to assist our efforts in monitoring coral reefs in Aqaba. The divers are requested to report sightings of bleached corals, including the location, depth and type of the coral if possible,” Abu Awali told The Jordan Times.

Coral bleaching occurs when symbiotic algae known as zooxanthellae are expelled from the coral or lose their pigmentation due to changes in the reef environment such as an increase in temperature or sunlight exposure, chemical changes in the seawater, pollution, or the proliferation of certain marine creatures, according to web sources.

Corals receive their characteristically bright colours from zooxanthellae, which live in the otherwise colourless tissue of the coral and help it produce nutrients. Bleached corals lose their colouration due to the loss of the symbiotes living in their tissues, but will regain it if the bleaching is not too severe and decreases over time.

If bleaching is severe and prolonged, the coral eventually dies.

“Coral bleaching is caused by many natural and man-made factors. The coral bleaching in Hurghada, for instance, happened due to above-average temperatures,” Abu Awali explained.

Temperatures during August soared above their average several times and are also expected to rise during this month, the AMP director noted.

“While we are glad that no bleached corals have been sighted in Aqaba so far, we remain vigilant because the hot summer is not over yet,” he said.

“Unfortunately, if coral bleaching happens due to natural causes, such as rising temperatures, it cannot be reversed. But if it is due to pollution or overpopulation of a sea creature, it can be stopped,” Abu Awali underscored.

Coral bleaching has never been recorded in the Gulf of Aqaba, he said, but massive coral reefs in Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti have suffered from the phenomenon in the past decade.

Reputed for having one of the world’s most unique coral reef systems, Aqaba’s Red Sea waters are a prime attraction for both tourists and divers.

Some of the underwater treasures include around 127 species of hard coral and 300 kinds of soft coral, as well as thousands of plants and animals that have coexisted in the gulf for hundreds of years.