Communities can be powerful stewards of spectacular marine life
Local communities around the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden understand better than anyone the value of their natural environment. This became very clear when we visited various marine protected communities in Sudan, Djibouti and Egypt: the inhabitants have real concerns for using marine resources sustainably and in a way that benefits all.
The World Bank is piloting a new approach to marine management in one of the most biodiverse, underwater hotspots in the world, famous for its stunning corals, large number of endemic species, and attraction to tourists. The project aims to help the member countries of the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) develop a more holistic management approach based on the ecosystem. It is designed to support local communities with the balance between using the rich resource and becoming stronger stewards of the marine resources surrounding them. Part of the solution is to provide alternative livelihoods to local communities through various opportunities such as sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, ecotourism, salt production, and handicrafts.
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Here’s a snapshot of some of the key findings and best moments of our visit:
First stop Sudan: the hospitality and generosity of the Sudanese people were beyond our imagination. In Dungonab village in the Red Sea State, the local Beja community leaders and women's groups shared their ideas for ways to improve their livelihoods. Small-scale aquaculture was a suggestion, so was shell cultivation and handicraft production. In particular, the women were adamant that they participate actively in the project activities, and jokingly suggested that if the project was successful they would turn the table and perhaps take another husband or two. However, there are many obstacles to developing ecotourism, such as bureaucracy and red tape involved in obtaining a visa, lack of flight connections to Port Sudan and the restricted movement of tourist within Sudan.
Next stop Djibouti: famous for the annual gathering of whale sharks from October to January, Djibouti is a prime spot for ecotourism development. In Khor Anghar on the northern coast, very few tourists venture out to see the stunning beaches and mangroves where the Afar people live. However, with a little assistance to the local community and improved access, the site has the potential to be one of the main attractions for nature lovers and divers. One of key challenges in this community is the encroachment of illegal fishing activity from Yemeni fishers. Shark fins are a highly sought-after commodity for export to East Asia, even though shark fishing is illegal in the Red Sea.
Last stop Egypt: This is the pioneer of Red Sea tourism. Lately, there has been a growing interest in developing ecotourism in the southern Red Sea as opposed to traditional high-volume mass tourism of Hurghada and adjacent areas. The local community, park rangers, and business owners showed a lot of interest in the potential for developing ecotourism with the caveat that timely action is needed before the mistakes of the past are repeated.
Through this project, PERSGA and their member countries hope to strengthen regional cooperation and integration. And we as a team in the Bank hope to support PERSGA in having a stronger voice in the Global Partnership for Oceans since the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, two of the largest ecosystems of the Indian Ocean, can be an important repository for valuable, resilient species.