Scuba diving tourists are an important source of income for Egypt, but now the tourism sector might be sawing off the branch on which they’re sitting by over-exploiting the sensitive coral reefs of the Red Sea. According to a study by Hasler and Ott, heavily dived dive sites near the town of Dahab have a significantly lower level of coral cover compared to areas without recreational diving.

red sea Divers Damage Coral Cover in Red Sea

Located off the south-eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, the reefs of Dahab is one of Sinai’s most treasured and well visited diving destinations. Dahab is still a fairly small town, but it is situated no more than 80 km (50 miles) from Sharm el-Sheik, a bustling tourist hub which attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Some of the dive sites off Dahab are among the world’s most heavily dived sites with over 30,000 dives per year.

According to Hasler and Ott, heavily dived sites in the studied area exhibited a reduced coral cover compared to non-dived sites and there were also significantly higher levels of broken and damaged corals. Differences could also be observed within the same reef, with coral communities located on reef crest areas being significantly more damaged than coral communities growing on reef slopes.

Divers are not only causing trouble by damaging corals directly; they can also stir up the sand around the reefs, thereby promoting sedimentation on top of the corals. Attached corals cannot free themselves of sediment particles and being covered in sand is therefore very dangerous for them.

In order to combat the problems faced by heavily exploited reefs, Hasler and Ott have suggested implementing ecologically sustainable dive plans for individual sites and limiting the total amount of dives per year. According to the authors, it is also very important to educate dive guides and divers.

For more info, read the results of the study which are due to be published shortly in Marine Pollution Bullentine. “Hasler H and JA Ott (2008) – Diving down the reefs? Intensive diving tourism threatens the reefs of the Northern Red Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2008 Aug.”