By Hana Namrouqa – Mar 16,2017

AMMAN — Increasing maritime transport, development and tourist projects on the Red Sea coast are threatening its biodiversity, a regional expert warned on Thursday, while Jordan renewed its commitment to preserving its only sea gate.

The Red Sea, among other marine environments in the Arab region, is witnessing an accelerating development of projects that could cause environment degradation, natural resources exploitation and loss of biodiversity if its preservation is disregarded, said Ziad Hamzah Abu Ghararah, secretary general of the Regional Organisation for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA).

The Red Sea is internationally regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful and cleanest seas, while the Gulf of Aden is known for its wealth of diverse fish species, Abu Ghararah said during PERSGA’s 17th ministerial council meeting.

Although the Arab region’s marine environments are kept clean from pollution and its biological diversity is preserved “so far” compared to other seas across the world, they are increasingly witnessing challenges and pressures, he said, underscoring that climate change is among them.

“Marine ecosystems are among this region’s main pillars of socio-economic development, serving as a renewable and sustainable source of food… which necessitates preserving it for current and future generations,” Abu Ghararah noted.

The one-day meeting saw the participation of the environment ministers of Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen to approve PERSGA’s technical and financial policies.

Minister of Environment Yaseen Khayyat said that Jordan deems the preservation and development of the Gulf of Aqaba, which is located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, a priority because it is the Kingdom’s only sea gate and an important development hub.

The government has taken several measures to protect the marine environment of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, Khayyat said, indicating that the Kingdom was one of the first countries to sign the Jeddah Convention in 1982.

The Jeddah Convention expresses in clear terms of the commitment and the political will of the governments of the region to conserve the marine and coastal environments of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden through joint coordinated activities, according to PERSGA.

The minister underscored that Jordan was also among the first countries in the region to put forward strict regulations banning the discharging, dumping or burying of any harmful substances in the Gulf of Aqaba.

He noted that the Kingdom also has a zero discharge of any liquids or wastewater into the Gulf of Aqaba waters.

The Gulf of Aqaba is a semi-enclosed water basin attached to the semi-enclosed Red Sea, with a length of 170km, an average width of about 15km and a maximum depth of more than 1,800 metres, according to the Royal Marine Conservation Society.

Its water is warm year round, with the average sea temperature standing at 24°C, according to the society, which indicated that Jordan’s 27km coastline represents the northernmost outcropping of coral reef in the world and tolerates a high salinity rate compared to other seas.