By Hana Namrouqa – Jun 03,2019

AMMAN — The Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS) has released the first field guide on Jordan’s hard corals, which provides comprehensive review and details on hard corals at the Gulf of Aqaba.

The 432-page field guide lists hard corals species and provides notes on their taxonomy, distribution and description, according to marine conservationists at JREDS.

JREDS’ Marine Conservation Programme Manager Mohammad Tawaha said that the society prepared the guide after an extensive field survey conducted along the coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba at depths from zero level up to 30 metres below sea level.

Tawaha highlighted that many different habitats were surveyed, including natural and artificial reefs, soft substrates and reef caves in order to obtain the necessary details.

“The results of the survey revealed with clear evidence the importance of the Gulf of Aqaba as a host of important ecosystems, as 157 species of hard corals were identified, including 153 scleractinian corals [Anthozoa, Scleractinia], one organ pipe coral [Anthozoa, Alcyonacea] and 3 fire corals [Hydrozoa, Milleporidae],” Tawaha said.

Eleven endemic species have been recorded in the Gulf of Aqaba, representing 65 per cent of the 23 known endemic coral species to the Red Sea, Tawaha underscored.

“Some of the reported species represent their first record in the northern Red Sea, which is a high value for Jordan indeed,” Tawaha said.

Coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba, located some 330km south of Amman, cover almost half of Aqaba’s coastline, offering 21 diving locations for the exploration of diverse, colourful and unique coral reefs, according to JREDS.

Thirteen kilometres of Aqaba’s coastline, which stretches over a total of 27 kilometres, are covered with globally diverse coral reefs.

JREDS Executive Director Ehab Eid indicated that the society seeks to enrich the public’s knowledge of species and ecosystems at the Gulf of Aqaba, especially in light of limited information on marine ecosystems.

“This [the field guide] will certainly aid the country’s conservation efforts, and help in developing solid strategies and action plans for species and ecosystem conservation at the national and even international levels,” Eid highlighted.

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 with a maximum depth of more than 1,800 metres.

Its water is characterised by warmth during winter and summer, with an average sea temperature of 24°C. Jordan’s 27km coastline represents the northernmost outcropping of coral reef in the world and tolerates a high salinity rate compared to other seas, according to the guide on toxic creatures in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Eid noted that knowledge gained from putting the guide together will also help JREDS support the government in fulfilling its obligations towards the international community in terms of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which the Kingdom ratified in 1993, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG14 on “Life Below Water”.

The marine conservationist expressed JREDS’ willingness to continue with efforts to present a complete list of faunal and floral species at the Gulf of Aqaba.

“The establishment of a marine protected area is a necessary step to conserve this extraordinary diversity, and will be a major tool to combat climate change effects, conserve genetic resources and sustain them for future generations,” he suggested.

Eid noted that the guide on hard corals in Jordan was support by the Sustainable Use of Ecosystem Services in Jordan project, in addition to the society’s collaboration with the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.