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Red Sea and Gulf of Aden: an introduction

Dr. Ziad Abu-Ghararah, PERSGA Secretary General

In geological terms the Red Sea is a young ocean. Created through separation of the Arabian plate from Africa, and located in a predominantly arid latitudinal zone, a unique and wonderful biodiversity has evolved. The region supports world renowned coral reefs, lush mangroves and fertile seagrass beds. It is home to endemic species of seabirds, reef fish and invertebrates.

Concern for the welfare of this beauty and the natural resources of the region can be traced back to 1974 when the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) initiated a Programme for the region. In 1982 the plenipotentiaries of the governments in the region signed the Regional Convention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment, otherwise known as the Jeddah Convention, together with its associated Protocol. The main focus of the Convention is the prevention, reduction and fight against pollution. In accordance with the Convention, a new Secretariat, the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) was formally announced in 1995 with the headquarters in Jeddah.

From 1999 to 2003 PERSGA was the executing agency for the Strategic Action Programme for the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, funded through the GEF, implementing agencies (UNDP, UNEP, and the World Bank), the Islamic Development Bank, and the PERSGA member states. This Programme has provided a framework for long-term conservation and management of coastal and marine resources. Guided by a Regional Task Force and Working Groups consisting of expert representatives from each of the PERSGA member state, the Programme has integrated several complementary components such as: the reduction of navigation risks and marine pollution; sustainable use and management of living marine resources; habitat and biodiversity conservation; development of a Regional Network of Marine Protected Areas; support for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM); and the enhancement of public awareness and participation.

Recent achievements have seen: a new vessel traffic separation scheme put into operation in the southern Red Sea with the approval of IMO; a regionally standardized system for the collection of fisheries data has been prepared and two regional training centres have been established to promote the sustainable use of transboundary fisheries stocks through cooperative management; surveys have been carried out to assess the regional status of mangroves, turtles and breeding seabirds and Regional Action Plans developed for their future conservation; and public awareness and community participation through school environmental clubs have been established within the region. PERSGA has also prepared a Regional Programme of Action for the Prevention of Pollution from Land-based Activities and is executing two National Programmes of Action.

Future activities include: a Regional Environmental Monitoring Programme in cooperation with the Coordinating Unit of the Mediterranean Action Plan and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Marine Environment Laboratory (IAEA/MEL); a Regional Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre (MEMAC) is being established in Hurghada to coordinate activities in the event of oil spills and a Contingency Planning Action Plan is being put into effect; steps have been taken towards the creation of a Regional Commission for Fisheries; and a network of Marine Protected Areas is being created throughout the region.

A draft Protocol Concerning the Conservation of Biological Diversity and the Establishment of Protected Areas and a draft Protocol on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Sources of Pollution in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden have been sent to member states for review.

PERSGA has prepared a new strategy and vision for the future underpinned by the Rio Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals. This new policy seeks to build partnerships that will support continued conservation efforts in the region leading to sustainable development and poverty alleviation.