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As tourism to the Red Sea’s natural & cultural sites continues to gain popularity, stress on these sites also increases due to a variety of human impacts. Furthermore, the environment of the Red Sea is more susceptible to stress than that of many other eco-systems.
The government has therefore invested in the management of protected areas, as a means of sustainable utilization of fragile habitats. Many of the sites now have effective management plans, infrastructure, and equipment and are run by the Red Sea Rangers. The Red Sea Rangers are the enforcement arm of the EEAA, responsible for safeguarding the natural resources of the Red Sea.
The islands scattered along the southern Red Sea are some of the most beautiful habitats the Red Sea has to offer. Some of these pristine islands can be visited by day boat or live-aboard for diving or snorkeling. Others are protected areas and off-limits to the public due to their importance both ecologically and economically.
Sammadai National Park (Dolphin House)
Beginning in 2001 Dolphin house became the center of “dolphin frenzy.” Hundreds of people traveled from as far as Hurgahda to play with the resident spinner dolphins of Samadai. In a single day Samadai was hosting up to 30 boats and 500-800 people. Inexperienced snorkelers were coming in close proximity to the lagoon with no regard to the resting dolphins. Tourist activities were beginning to cause pressures on the dolphin, which led to a visible decrease of the population in a very short time. In the summer of 2001 a boat caught fire near the reef and the situation had become unbearable for the dolphins of Samadai. Immediate action had to be taken to protect this precious sanctuary. Various individuals amongst the community including HEPCA, The Abu Salama Society, and the Red Sea Protectorate (EEAA) came together and formulated a zoning plan for the site. The management plan was eventually signed by the governor, HEPCA, the Red Sea Diving Association, and the EEAA.
The maximum capacity for the site was set at 10 boats and 100-150 visitors per day. The site management plan focuses on 7 main targets.
1. Implementing a zoning plan for the sheltered area to create a restricted zone for:
2. Establishing a best practice guidelines
3. Implement a proper monitoring program
4. Restricting the day time use for visitors (10:00 am 2:00 pm)
5. Implement a service fee system
6. Strengthen law enforcement process
7. Implement a public awareness program
Today the dolphins of Samadai live a care-free life in harmony with the daily visiting tourists. It’s an amazing and truly fulfilling experience to be able to interact with these animals in their natural habitat. We consider the Samadai project a model of sustainable development planning, which should be adopted all over the world.
Wadi El Gemal National Park
Approximately 50km south of Marsa Alam city begins the Wadi el Gemal National park, which has been nominated as a Biosphere Reserve. The Reserve Area encompasses the segment of the Red Sea coastal plain and mountains extending roughly between 24°51’N in the north and 24°06’N in the south; and between the Red Sea shoreline in the east to about 34°28’E in the west.
The Reserve area includes marine and terrestrial components. Wadi El Gemal and its delta are the central theme of the terrestrial reserve area. The marine component of the protected area encompasses a strip of coastal marine waters featuring patches of mangroves, as well as a number of marine islands (the Hamata archipelago and Wadi El Gemal Island).
The presence of mangroves on the islands makes it a perfect habitat for hundreds of shore and sea bird species. In addition to the bird populations, two species of turtles use the Island for nesting grounds and dolphins are commonly seen swimming around the Island. Daily boat excursions to the Qulan islands for sunbathing and snorkeling is a favored excursion.
Land based excursions to the Wadi el Gemal delta and desert for trekking, bird watching, and Bedouin encounters is also very popular. The local Bedouin Ababda who inhabits the Wadi el Gamel reserve and eastern desert offers cultural based excursions. The eastern desert’s spectacular scenery and wildlife are also a popular attraction.
Animals that inhabit the wadis include many rare species like the Nubian Ibex, Capra Ibex Nubiana, and the Hyrax. Wild donkeys, camels, and gazelle are also abundant in the region and feed on the vegetation of the desert.
The EEAA has ensured that the infrastructure necessary to receive tourists is in place and already a privately-owned tented eco-lodge, aptly named el-Fustat (the camp), has been set up in the protectorate. Wildlife and bird watching trips are available as well as the ever-popular camel trips.