The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights has warned of the dangers faces the Red Sea reserves, which represent a major threat to marine and environmental life, as well as its impact on the tourism and economic sectors, represented by the increase in illegal fishing and recreational violations, which threaten Egypt’s national wealth in the form of coral reefs and marine mammals.
According to the professor of marine environment at the Faculty of Science, Suez Canal University, and the advisor of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), Dr. Mahmoud Hassan Hanafy, the natural fish stock in the Red Sea has reached a critical limit, calling for the need to preserve the remaining living natural resources in the region, which is the mainstay of investment in the tourism field, and its importance to the national income.
Hanafy explained, in a position paper published by the Egyptian Center, on Monday, August 22, as part of its campaign “The prudent path”, to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on economic and social rights, coinciding with the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP27), scheduled to be held in the city of Sharm Al-Sheikh in South Sinai, from the sixth to the eighteenth of next November, that this rate reached the limits of 20,000 tons annually, while it is assumed that it should not exceed only 2,000 tons per year as a maximum. The increase in this number means the loss of a large number of fish mothers, and the decline in the rate of reproduction, and the consequent effects on marine life in general.
The professor of marine environment at the College of Science also warned of the danger of the so-called recreational fishing, which is practiced by the rich classes, with modern cranes and equipment, capable of reaching hundreds of meters in the depth of the sea, which causes the loss of fish stocks at this depth. A comportment that prompts large and predatory fish, such as sharks and others, to search for other areas to obtain their food, after the quantities in their area have dwindled as a result, and the scope of this search may extend to the shores.
In addition, sharks are showing signs of unusual behavior, as they became nervous and edgy, as a result of losing their food source. As well as unhealthy human behavior. It has become attracted to any food source from ships and boats, even waste and sewage, as a number of them are attracted to, threatening the lives of many citizens, and affecting the tourism sector in general, as has already happened in the Sahl Hasheesh area in Hurghada, according to Hanafy.
Article 28 of Law No. 4 of 1994 regarding the issuance of a law in the matter of the environment stipulates that hunting, killing, catching birds, wild animals, and aquatic living creatures, or possessing, transporting, exporting, importing, or trading is prohibited in any way whether it is alive or dead, all or its parts, or its derivatives, or doing actions that would destroy its natural habitats, change its natural properties or habitats, damage its cases, or destroy its eggs or offspring. The executive regulation of this law determines the types of these organisms and the areas to which the provisions of the previous paragraph apply.
The law also prohibits cutting, damaging, possessing, transporting, importing, exporting, or trading in all or parts of plants, their derivatives, or products, or performing acts that would destroy their natural habitats or change their natural properties. or their habitats, and the executive regulations of this law specify the types of these plants.
It is also prohibited to collect, possess, transport, or trade in fossils of animal or plant species, or change their features, or destroy geological structures or environmental phenomena characteristic of them, or affect their aesthetic level in natural protected areas, and trade in all endangered animal or plant organisms, or breeding them, or cultivating them in other than their habitats without obtaining a license from the Environmental Affairs Agency. The executive regulations of this law specify the types of these organisms and the conditions for licensing.
Article 84 states that without prejudice to any more severe penalty stipulated by another law, anyone who violates the provisions of Article (28) of this law shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not less than 5,000 pounds and not more than 50,000 pounds, or one of these two penalties.
In all cases, a judgment shall be issued for the confiscation of seized birds, animals, living creatures, plants, and fossils, as well as machinery, weapons, tools, and means of transportation that were used in the commission of the crime.
In early July, the Head of the Nature Protection Sector at the Environmental Affairs Agency, Dr. Mohamed Salem Abdel Rahman, Professor of Marine Environment at the Faculty of Science, Suez Canal University, and the Advisor to the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), Dr. Mahmoud Hassan Hanafy, finished preparing the technical report for the two fish attacks. The shark killed two tourists, an Austrian and a Romanian, in the Sahl Hasheesh area in Hurghada, Red Sea Governorate, confirming the authenticity of the attack.
The details of the incident date back to early July, when the Red Sea reserves received a report of a shark attack on a 67-year-old Austrian woman. This attack led to her death while she was being transferred to the hospital, where the body was examined to assess the size and nature of the injuries sustained.
Subsequently, the Governor of the Red Sea, Major General Amr Hanafy, decided to prevent activities in the area of the accident and its surroundings, and to form a joint committee from the Ministry of Environment and the HEPCA Association, to examine the circumstances of the accident and prepare a report on the causes.
The committee included the Professor of Marine Environment at the Faculty of Science at Suez Canal University, the Adviser to the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), Dr. Mahmoud Hassan, the Head of the Nature Protection Sector at the Environmental Affairs Agency, Dr. Mohamed Salem Abdel Rahman, the Director General of the Red Sea Reserves at the Environmental Affairs Agency, Dr. Tamer Kamal, and Director of the Northern Islands Reserve in the Environmental Affairs Agency, Dr. Ahmed Ghallab, where the area was surveyed with devices by a team from the National Institute of Marine Sciences.
The committee listened to witnesses of the accident in Sahl Hasheesh, the marine lifeguard who witnessed the accident, as well as the director and staff of the diving center. Where everyone confirmed that the Austrian victim was practicing snorkeling with her husband in the coral reef area, and a group of tourists was close to her. A few minutes before the accident, one of the tourists, while practicing snorkeling as well, noticed the presence of a large shark under the water and reported it to the marine lifeguard on the boardwalk.
The report indicated that the shark was at a distance of 20 meters and at a depth of two meters, and all those in the water were warned, and directed to get out of the water, or swim in the direction of the shallow area on the surface. At that moment, the victim was the closest to the shark, which attacked her, causing her right leg and hand to be amputated.
The report revealed that the committee did not find witnesses about the incident of the shark attack on the second victim, whose body was found the next morning. The information available from the resort’s management was limited to the fact that it was verified by surveillance cameras that the victim left her room at four o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, the first of July, wearing a swiming suit, and headed to the site of the seawalk, to practice snorkeling, and it was proven that she did not return again to her room, where her body was found the next morning.
The report, based on the observations and discussion of witnesses, analysis of events, and study of photographs and video clips, indicated that the attack on the Austrian woman took place at around five thirty in the evening, and it took only a few seconds, and the shark did not attempt to repeat the attack on the victim again, and it is believed that the amputation of the leg and arm occurred as a result of a single bite.
The report confirmed that one large-sized “tiger” shark was behind the two incidents, based on the nature of the jaw print on the two victims, and the description made by the marine rescuer who saw the fish underwater, and what he identified of the pictures of the different types of sharks in the sea offered to him in red.
The report indicated that the accident was not accidental as a result of a mistake by the fish in determining its food sources, but was deliberately intended to feed on the Romanian victim. Concerning the Austrian victim, it was her bad luck that made her the closest one to the shark which was imposing its influence on the place.
The workers in the diving center confirmed that they had not see any type of shark in Sahl Hasheesh before that, and indicated that they had seen a dolphin roaming the coast near the shore during the days preceding the accident, and this was documented by underwater photographs.
The report emphasized that the intransigence of shark behavior, which occurs rapidly, was reflected in the accident rates in the last decade, and their ferocity in the last two accidents, and that it was time to take decisive measures to reduce such accidents, by avoiding the causes and preserving Egypt’s natural resources.
The committee suggested a number of urgent and long-term measures to reduce these accidents. The urgent measures at the local level to ensure that these incidents do not recur in the short term are:
1- Continuing monitoring, follow-up, and surveilling of the accident area and the surrounding areas through the environmental researcher in the natural reserves, and the employees of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association “HEPCA” through field follow-up, and the establishment of a communication network with users of the marine area.
2- Suspension of all recreational fishing activities (paid boats – excursion boats – private yachts), and fishing competitions during the ban period, as is the case with licensed fishermen in all regions of the Red Sea.
3- After the Governor’s Decision No. 536/ of 2022 expired on 7/7/2022, sandy beaches, the depth of which does not exceed a meter, is allowed.
4- Allow snorkeling activity in the narrowest limits within the protected areas, and ban snorkeling activities on the coral edge for another week, provided that the activity is carried out under the supervision of a licensed guide, who holds the necessary courses from the diving room and marine activities, and at a rate of one guide for every 10 people who exercise.
5- Take urgent and strict measures against violators, especially those who practice illegal fishing.
Long-term actions also include:
1- Start immediately to implement an appropriate plan in the long term, in the absence of proper coordination, and the failure to implement a sustainable management line, according to the absorptive capacity of the marine environment, which has resulted in many problems, such as the increase in shark attacks on tourists, which threatens the sustainability of these resources unique.
2- Implementation of an integrated management program for diving sites, in all areas of diving and snorkeling, aimed at preserving the site and its environmental, scientific and economic value, and protecting and securing divers from shark attacks, as a start to implementing an integrated program for managing diving sites, in all regions of the Red Sea.
3- Implementation of a program for monitoring, control and law enforcement, through tracking devices for tourist boats, as the maritime part of the Red Sea Governorate is vast, and it is difficult to control the existing activities, through the executive bodies of the state.
The governorate sought to create a mechanism to monitor the implementation of a line for managing diving sites and securing tourists, through the introduction of geolocation technology for all tourist boats, thus making it easy to track them, determining their locations, and applying a management line to diving sites, according to their absorptive capacity (the number of boats visiting one site), which helps to stop the deterioration of the marine environment in some areas, which will undoubtedly help reduce the dangers of attacking sharks.
4- Establishment of new (industrial) diving sites, with the aim of relieving pressure, and excessive use of diving sites on natural coral reefs, as these pressures are one of the most important causes of shark attacks.
5- Making a plan for all activities based on natural resources in the Red Sea, for the purpose of stopping the conflict based on these resources in all parties and users of the marine environment.
The report also recommended the implementation of a plan to regulate fishing in the Red Sea, with the aim of reducing the fishing effort by at least 50% through:
Cessation of all fishing activities, whether commercial, traditional or recreational (during the reproductive period that extends from mid-April to the end of July).
Finding alternative sources of income for fishermen, and it is suggested that they be attached to the tourism sector, as the sector is the main beneficiary of the activity.
Reducing the effort of recreational fishing, by no less than 70%, and limiting it to restricted areas, as well as considering the fish reproductive areas of absolute protection, in which fishing is completely prohibited.
Tightening control over the markets to prevent the sale of fishing gear.
Increasing monitoring of roads to prevent the transfer of Red Sea fish without a legal basis.
Raising the technical capabilities of environmental researchers to deal with shark incidents, through government grants to attend training courses abroad in one of the countries with experience to deal with such incidents, such as Australia, the United States, or South Africa.
An urgent meeting under the auspices of the Prime Minister, and in the presence of the relevant ministers, to discuss ways to protect and preserve the marine environment, and the sustainable use of unique natural resources.
Based on this technical report, the governor issued Resolution No. 566, to continue closing the marine area extending from north of Dasht al-Dabaa, to Ras Abu Soma in the south. And not to practice any marine activities in this area, whether fishing and diving, for those who are not qualified to obtain a diving license, including training in diving, snorkeling, water games, parachute, and kite surfing, until July 15, provided that sandy beaches are allowed to be used in the exclusion zone until Depth of one meter.
The decision included restricting the practice of snorkeling, to a very limited extent, in the closed marine areas of coral reefs inside the lagoons. This activity should be practiced, under the direct supervision of a snorkeling guide, who has obtained all the necessary courses from the diving room and marine activities, at a rate of one guide for every 10 people who exercise, and ensuring that no one engages in snorkeling alone. While diving activities are allowed in the exclusion zone, it is limited to those with diving licenses only, and qualified divers.
It also included a ban on all fishing activities along the Red Sea coast, during the prohibition period specified by a decision issued by the Chairman of the Fisheries Authority. The ban includes all types of recreational fishing, which are carried out by pleasure boats, and rides for hire, as well as private ones. It is prohibited to have fishing equipment on these boats and boats. Stressing that all hotels along the Red Sea coast must designate a sufficient number of qualified lifeguards, who have the necessary courses and certificates. In addition to the continuation of the work of the committee concerned with follow-up and monitoring, of environmental researchers in the reserves, in cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of the Environment, to carry out continuous monitoring and follow-up work. Emphasis on boats not to throw any waste into the sea water, and handing over the waste boats to the berths after returning, and preparing daily reports and presenting them to the governor.
It is also scheduled that the competent agencies of the Ministry of Environment and the Red Sea Reserves Authority will start implementing the monitoring and tracking program for the movements and behavior of sharks in the Red Sea, starting from next September, as part of the recommendations of the Scientific Committee formed regarding the investigation of the shark attack incident in Sahl Hasheesh.
The program is being implemented through a scientific team headed by a foreign expert, members of the Red Sea nature reserves researchers, and members of the Monitoring Committee, to monitor their behavior and movements, and not to repeat incidents of their attacks on humans. In the Red Sea, there are about 44 species of sharks, and there are not enough studies on these species.
The Ministry of Environment also indicated its intention to import monitoring and tracking devices, which will be placed on sharks, to monitor their movement behavior, to identify the reasons for their attacking humans. The devices will be placed on the shark’s back, to continue analyzing the data, monitoring the kinetic behavior, the reasons for changing its behavior, and its causes, and conducting scientific studies, through the devices that will be used by the committee, which obtained security approval, customs clearance and the completion of all papers.
Article 24 of Law No. 4 of 1994, regarding the promulgation of a law in the matter of the environment, stipulates that the environmental monitoring networks – which are the bodies that, in their field of competence, including stations and work units, monitor the components and pollutants of the environment, and make data available to the concerned authorities periodically – in accordance with the provisions of this law, including the stations of work units, which, in their field of competence, periodically monitor the components and pollutants of the environment, and make data available to the concerned authorities, and for this they may seek the assistance of research centers, bodies, and competent authorities. These centers, bodies, and authorities must provide them with the studies and data they require.
But the Sahl Hasheesh incident was not the first of its kind in Egypt. According to official reports issued by the Ministry of Environment, 4 previous incidents occurred, including two in successive years 2015 and 2016. The first took place in Marsa Alam, for a German tourist, causing his death, and the last, happened to an Egyptian young man, in al Ain Sukhna area.
Paragraph (f) of Annex 4 of the Executive Regulations of the Environmental Law, issued by Prime Minister’s Resolution No. 388 of 1995, stipulates that fishing may be prohibited, by a decision of the competent authority in coordination with the Environmental Affairs Agency.
Article 31 of Law No. 146 of 2021, regarding the issuance of the Law on the Protection and Development of Lakes and Fisheries, prohibits fishing, collecting, transporting, or possessing fish fry, sea turtles, and marine mammals, from the sea, lakes, or water bodies, others, or tampering with their places of existence and reproduction, as the case may be, along the Egyptian shores, or in marine waters, except with a permit from the Agency. The Executive Regulations shall specify the controls, conditions, and procedures for granting the permit.
Article 34 stipulates that, without a license from the Agency, it is prohibited to use any boat for fishing. The executive regulation shall specify the license data, its term, the conditions and procedures for its issuance and renewal. It is also prohibited for any person to practice the fishing profession, unless he has a fishing card. The executive regulation shall specify the data of the fishing card, and the conditions and procedures for obtaining it.
Dr. Mahmoud Hanafi renews his warning against human activities destructive to marine life in the region, and calls for them to be confronted and stopped as soon as possible. The basis for the inflation of these activities is the occurrence of intensive development in the region, which in turn led to an increase in the consumption of these resources to critical limits.
He stressed that the Red Sea is not a fishing area, and that the economic and environmental value of its fish while alive is much higher than its value when it is dead, especially with the importance of its presence in its environment as a tourist attraction. Pointing to the impact of overfishing in making coral reefs more vulnerable to climate change conditions, due to practices that disrupt the ecosystem.
He continued: “There are types of fish that feed on algae, which creates smooth surfaces that facilitate coral reef larvae to anchor on them and form new colonies, and with the continued consumption of these fish, there will be no possibility of marine life, which leads to an environmental disaster.”
Article 25 of Law No. 4 of 1994 regarding the issuance of a law in the matter of the environment stipulates that the Environmental Affairs Agency shall develop an emergency plan to confront environmental disasters, and the plan shall be approved by the Council of Ministers.
The emergency plan is based in particular on: collecting available locally and internationally information on how to confront environmental disasters, mitigating the damages that result from them, inventorying the available capabilities at the local, national, and international levels, and determining how to use them in a way that ensures rapid response to the disaster.
The emergency plan includes: defining the types of environmental disasters, the authorities responsible for reporting their occurrence or anticipating their occurrence, the establishment of a central operations room to receive reports on the environmental disaster, and follow-up to receive and send accurate information about it, with the aim of mobilizing the necessary capabilities to confront it, and forming a working group to follow up on confronting the environmental disaster when the head of the aforementioned working group shall have all the necessary powers to confront the environmental disaster, in cooperation and coordination with the competent authorities.
Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) consultant called for the need to reduce the fishing effort to 50% within 3 to 4 years. We will not be able to force the fisherman to leave his profession without a suitable income alternative for him, most notably providing them with job opportunities in the tourism sector, which is one of the sectors that benefit most from them in general.
He stresses that the reefs in the Red Sea are a unique national and heritage wealth, and may be the last coral reefs in the world, especially with the rise in sea temperatures in all countries of the world, as a result of the effects of climate change, which pushes the algae that live with coral to leave them, and causes the occurrence of Coral bleaching phenomenon.
He added: “This phenomenon has caused the loss of 50% of the coral reefs from the Great Barrier in Australia, in just one year, so the importance of these reefs in the Red Sea transcends local and regional borders, but has become of international importance, as a cultural and human heritage that must be preserved from extinction.”
He continued: “We are working with the Ministry of Environment, and other international bodies, to declare the Egyptian Reef as a Great Barrier Reef, similar to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The region is no longer of only scientific or ecological importance, but has become an important national income factor as well.”
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights appeals to government and responsible agencies to quickly implement the recommendations of the Technical Committee regarding measures to save marine life in the Red Sea region, and to stop the practices of overfishing in it, while reducing the waste of marine resources due to human and tourism activities, coinciding with Egypt hosting the Conference of the Parties to the Convention United Nations Climate Change Committee (COP27).
The Center also calls for action before international organizations such as the United Nations and UNESCO to declare the Red Sea region a world natural heritage site, given its unique environmental importance, as well as contributing to protecting its existence and preserving it for future generations, which in turn contributes to enhancing the country’s access to financial support. To enhance efforts to protect it, as well as increase the volume of tourist flow to it, especially for those interested in eco-tourism.