Coral watching ‘a thrilling experience that should not be missed’

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Few stop to give a thought to the value of the many beautiful, complex, and beneficial ecosystems surrounding us. Like the coral reefs that abound in the Gulf of Aqaba, for example, home to several sub-ecosystems and one of the greatest attractions in Jordan.اضافة اعلان

Different coral reefs are heavily studied, preserved, and even restored, when needed. It is important, then, to understand the state of the Red Sea coral reefs, with the life forms they house. It should not be difficult, seeing that the Red Sea water has a high degree of transparency, which makes diving all the more inviting.

I visited the Marine Science Station (MSS) in Aqaba, run jointly by the University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, and was greatly impressed by the different facilities there, as well as by the various important projects being implemented that will potentially lead to scientific breakthroughs in climate issues, coral restoration, and ocean acidification.

The Gulf of Aqaba corals are generally in perfect condition. Some, however, are damaged due to their high sensitivity. One of the station’s main projects, thus, is to study coral reefs and work to restore them when damaged.

Coral reefs, according to Professor Fuad Al-Horani, who is an expert in coral biology and ecology and a senior researcher at MSS, University of Jordan-Aqaba branch, are marine ecosystems distributed in tropical and subtropical areas; they make up 15 percent of all marine ecosystems. Aqaba coral reefs encompass the most northern type of reefs, which contain fringing coral reefs, the most plentiful, and dominant, type in Aqaba.

Horani said the Aqaba coral reefs are marked by diversity, intensity, and vigor. Aqaba has the highest amount of coral reefs per area. The lack of rivers, rainfall, and sedimentation are all positive factors, he said, since water transparency is maintained and no pollutants are carried into the sea. Moreover, there is no agricultural activity surrounding the gulf that could possibly lead to the release of pesticides into the reefs.

The sea’s depth, 1,850m protects reefs from both hot summers and cold winters, and temperature is maintained relatively constant down where the corals live, added Horani.

The reefs in the Red Sea are well protected and under regular supervision and monitoring, which helps a lot, for, despite coral reefs having a high life expectancy, they are sensitive and prone to get damaged by different factors, including pollutants, increased sedimentation, fluctuation of water temperature, and salinity.
Coral reefs are a refuge for many organisms; they also represent an ecosystem that contains food for large and small organisms alike ...
MSS has several different facilities and projects that work to restore and study corals: research on coral reproduction, coral settlement, and the construction of artificial reefs. The station also has over 30 coral nurseries. It takes local coral reefs seriously and considers their well-being one of its top priorities.

Coral reefs have both an economic and an environmental benefit. Regarding the former, they can represent an important source of income, being a major attraction for tourists and, through the other activities engendered, indirectly contributing to the economy. Additionally, coral reefs contain minerals and materials used in the manufacture of medicines, jewelry, and other human needs.

As for the latter, coral reefs are a refuge for many organisms; they also represent an ecosystem that contains food for large and small organisms alike, while also being a nursery for certain species of fish.

Coral reefs are also connected to climate change, as they could either consume or release carbon dioxide. Interestingly, corals live in association with a type of algae that resides in the cells of corals and go through photosynthesis, like plants, and release CO2 and oxygen. The fish make use of this process. Equally importantly, corals release a type of mucus considered a source of food for some organisms. Lastly, corals can act as a nest for fish to lay eggs in.

As with most projects, there are several challenges when it comes to the restoration of coral reefs. According to Horani, the most prominent challenge is finding the source of funding for the several restoration and maintenance projects that come with a hefty price. Another challenge is finding enough people to assist in carrying out the restoration and maintenance projects.

Challenges aside, diving to see the coral reefs is an unforgettable experience. Taking the time to admire the colorful reefs of Aqaba is a thrilling experience that should not be missed.

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