By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa – Dec 07,2023 

AMMAN — The construction of the aquatic research centre to be established in Aqaba will start early next year, according to the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA)..

Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh said during an interview with the UAE Al Etihad newspaper on Monday that Jordan is in the process of establishing Aqaba Aquatic Research Centre with support from the Abu Dhabi Ports Company. 

Director of media at ASEZA, Fayez Al Fayez told The Jordan Times on Wednesday that a piece of land has been allocated for the project and its construction plans have been finalised. 

He estimated that the project will be completed within two to three years. Its purpose is to protect the marine environment in Aqaba and preserve its biodiversity through scientific research efforts, according to Fayez. 

He also noted that the Aqaba Marine Reserve, situated along an area of 7 kilometres, is the first marine area within the Jordan National Protected Areas network, and it was formally declared as such in 2020.

The Jordan Times also spoke with the biodiversity conservation and protected areas specialist Ehab Eid, who highlighted the uniqueness of the Gulf of Aqaba. 

Eid explained that the Gulf of Aqaba is a semi-enclosed Gulf, considered the only maritime area in Jordan, with only 27km length of coastal areas. 

It is considered a “bottleneck” for one of the most important migration routes globally; the Rift Valley, through which millions of birds pass through Jordan every year, he added. 

Despite its relatively small water-body, the Gulf of Aqaba hosts an “extraordinary” marine diversity, with the presence of 157 species of hard corals, including 11 endemic species, in addition to over 120 species of soft corals, and 510 of recorded fish species, of which 5 per cent are endemic, according to Eid.  

Moreover, it includes three globally endangered species of the marine turtle; the Green Sea Turtle, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, he said. 

Eid also noted that coral reefs have been occurring in the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan since the middle Pleistocene (from 781,000 to 126,000 years ago).

He said that although coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba are “threatened”, they are “unique”, as recent studies have showed that they are a “refuge for coral species, and they could be used to re-seed degraded reefs in the Red Sea and perhaps even around the world”. 

Threats currently facing the Gulf of Aqaba include some natural predators, diseases and the extreme low tides, he added, highlighting a number of “anthropogenic” threats, such as fishing gears thought limited in scale, tourism impact, ports establishments, solid waste, coral harvesting, floods and climate change. 

Eid views that establishing the Aqaba Marine Reserve in 2020 was an “important” step towards the “protection of a representative sample of the main ecosystems in the Gulf of Aqaba, namely coral reefs, seagrass beds, sandy bottoms and the deep sea”. 

He said that the marine research hub ASEZA is working on establishing will play an important role in “understanding, protecting, and managing” the Gulf of Aqaba. 

“This facility is essential for informing policy decisions, developing sustainable practices, educating the public and safeguarding the health of the Gulf of Aqaba,” noted Eid. 

He added that it will play a “major” role in regional and international partnerships, especially after issuing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework which aims to conserve at least 30 per cent of the global ocean by 2030 with at least 10 per cent of the ocean effectively conserved and managed through highly protected areas.—-aseza