The Ras Mohammed National Park, established in 1983, was the first protected area
in Egypt. It incorporates the Southern Sinai Peninsula area of Ras Mohammed, and
its surrounding reef. Following its success, and the growing need for protective
measures (in 1967 Sharm el Sheikh was little more than a fishing village; by 1995
it boasted 40 international hotels, 32 dive centres and 240 dive boats), the area
has gradually expanded to encompass all marine coastal environments along the whole
250 km of the Sinai coast. In the Managed Resource Protected areas of Nabq and Abu
Galum, as well as on the island of Tiran, traditional grazing and fishing by Bedouin
is allowed, but no development. Dr. Rupert Ormond, the director of the UK National
Facility for Marine Biology Fieldwork (who was instrumental in the establishment
of the Ras Mohammed National Park), stresses that tourism aside, fisheries would
have destroyed the reef completely by now if it were not for Park regulations.
Regulations in Ras Mohamed
Given the social and economic pressures, the extension of the National Park is a
major achievement. Outside the protected areas, the remaining coastal zone has been
bought for hotel development. Even on those lands, there are certain restrictions
imposed, such as the prevention of infilling the shore (building artificial beaches
on top of the reef) and the prohibition of releasing sewage into coastal waters.
Another method has been the introduction of pontoons and cross-reef walkways, to
prevent divers and snorkellers from trampling and breaking the reef as they enter
and exit the water. A monitoring programme has shown these measures to be effective.
Further research in the Ras Mohammed area has found that each diver entering the
water from a boat makes an average of eight contacts with corals per dive, of which
half are likely to have caused significant damage to the colony. It has been proven
that pre-dive briefings, which highlight the importance of avoiding contact with
corals can significantly reduce this damage. Responsibility for briefings lies with
divemasters and instructors, who must all be aware of the issues and inform divers
accordingly. Administration of the National Park is taken care of by the Protectorates
Division of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA).
As well as the previously mentioned governmental organisations, there are groups
within the diving and marine community who run conservation programs; the South
Sinai Association for Diving and Marine Activities (previously the Sharm Diving
Union) arrange beach clean-ups and have also organised the collection of Crown-of-Thorns
starfish off the reef (while a natural phenomena, these starfish can have population
explosions and are lethal reef-eaters). Further plans include the provision of a
greater number of fixed moorings in the Sharm el Sheikh area and environmental awareness
seminars for developers.
Unlike the Sinai resort town of Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada is actually a city with
a population of more than 200,000 all of which depend on tourism for their livelihoods.
A few dive centre owners concerned by the damage, from volumes of divers and dive
boats, began the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association
(HEPCA) in the mid 1980s.
By 1996, HEPCA's members totalled 45 hotels and dive centres, with a governing board
of four Egyptians and three Europeans. A grant of $300,000 from the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID) along with co-sponsorship from ORASCOM
allowed HEPCA to begin a programme for installing moorings. Fixed moorings concentrate
diver damage to one area and minimize the damage from boats mooring to the reef.
Consequently the reefs have a chance to regenerate. In 1998, HEPCA received the
funding to begin the HEPCA Southern Area Mooring Buoy Installation Project, to install
buoys in the Safaga, El Qusier and Marsa Alam areas. Now HEPCA has provided more
than 380 mooring systems in addition to admistrating environmental awareness training
seminars to local boat skippers which includes instruction on the correct usage
of the moorings. Other programs organised by HEPCA include training for tour guides
and educational slide shows in hotels to encourage tourists to snorkel with HEPCA
Those are not the only education programs to protect Hurghada's reefs: Greencom
Together with Egyptian advertising agency Copyright, an organisation of USAID, ran
the "Don't You Want to Keep it This Way? campaign. Together with Egyptian advertising
agency Copyright, Greencom posted billboards in major Red Sea cities, at airports
and on the Cairo Metro. They also ran a teacher training workshop in 2000 for over
60 schools and 150 teachers in Hurghada, Safaga, Quseir and Marsa Alam.
Also in 2000, the Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (RSSTI), a collaboration
between USAID and the Tourism Development Authority (TDA), was begun. The Sheraton
Soma Bay, the Marsa Alam Kharamana, the Shams Alam resort, the Qusseir Utopia Hotel
joined the project which taught hotel owners, managers and staff how to make their
resorts more environmentally friendly. Recommendations included cutbacks on waste
production, energy and water use.
Of course, there can be all sorts of conservation plans and groups, but what is
important is that rules are laid down and abided by all. Law 102 of the Elba Protectorate
(1983) actually forbids damage to the reef. Currently there are four rangers working
for the EEAA to enforce this law in Hurghada, one in Marsa Alam and one in Quesier.
Skippers can be fined up to £10,000 LE or face imprisonment for anchoring onto the
reef. Presently the rangers don't have enough authority to take the necessary action
The Egyptian Environmental Policy Program (EEPP) is laying down a Conservation Management
Plan for the Southern Red Sea. There are plans to significantly increase the number
of EEAA Nature Conservation Sector (NCS) rangers who will be trained together with
the Red Sea Governate's Environmental Management Unit (EMU), which will operate
out of Hurghada, Quseir, Marsa Alam and Shelatine. The EEAA and EEPP intend to enhance
the capabilities of environmental agencies to manage, conserve and protect the resources
that bring livelihood to so many.
Scientific evidence indicates that the measures required by the National Park and
Protectorates have been relatively successful in controlling damage to corals. What
is critical is that protective measures are legally enforced to prevent reef degradation.
Thanks to the conservation schemes in Egypt, the reefs remain in far better condition
than those in many other parts of the world.
- Do not collect, remove or damage any material, living or dead, from Protected Areas
(corals, shells, fish, plants, fossils, etc.).
- It is prohibited to drive off marked tracks and to drive any motor vehicles on any
- Camping is prohibited unless in designated areas (by notice).
- Do not litter. Place garbage in proper disposal containers or take it with you.
- It is prohibited to access any closed area.
- It is prohibited to walk or anchor on any reef area. Please used marked access points.
- Fish feeding upsets the biological balance on the reef and is therefore prohibited.
- Fishing and spearfishing are not allowed in Protected Areas.
- All visitors must leave Protected Areas by sunset unless using a designated camping
- Access to diving areas is recommended at designated access points only. This reduces
damage to reef areas.
- Please take note of any instructions posted in Protected Areas.Offenders are subject
to prosecution according to the terms of Law 102 of 1983.