The Gulf of Aqaba
 
One of the World's Major 
Coral Reef Ecosystems
 
Dr. J. Michael Cobb, 
Senior Advisor ADC/ASEZA 
The Gulf of Aqaba
A Unique Undersea World
  Jordanian Governmental Programs for Marine Ecological Protection As Senior Advisor to the Chairman of ADC and the ASEZA Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Cobb was responsible for overseeing environmental planning for the Aqaba Southern Industrial Zone and Aqaba Ports Redevelopment and Expansion Master Planning. 
 

The Gulf of Aqaba, located at the northern end of the Red Sea, is the world's northernmost tropical sea ecosystem. With its oxygen-rich constant water temperature of 21-24 Celsius, the Gulf is a world renowned marine eco-tourism destination. Although having a dense diverse population of more than 110 species of soft corals, 120 species of hard corals, over 1000 species of fish and hundreds of species of crustaceans and other sea organisms, the Gulf is, however, a fragile delicately balanced ecosystem struggling to maintain its equilibrium. And contrary to popular assumptions, corals are not plants but very delicate slow-growing animals. With a growth rate of only about 1 cm per year, many of the corals existing in the Gulf today are actually centuries old. 

Prime Coral Distribution Sites in Aqaba's South Zone

This delicate ecosystem, which is the main source of tourism attraction in the region, is however, being endangered by high levels of near shore urban, industrial and commercial development throughout the region. As the future sustainability of the region's critical tourism industry depends greatly on preserving the spectacular seascapes, unique coastal settlements and surrounding desert mountain terrains, coordinated environmental protection and management actions by the Gulf's bordering countries of Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are essential.  

As principle ports in the northern Gulf, Aqaba and Eilat have major oil an and industrial terminals moving millions of tons of environmentally hazardous material every year. In addition, the Aqaba shoreline, as Jordan's only seaport, contains export facilities for phosphate, bromide, potash and import facilities for a host of industrial and consumer goods necessary to the Jordan economy. In addition the Gulf contains naval bases, commercial ports, marinas and pleasure boats, diving centers, bathing beaches and a variety of other mixed-use resort, residential and commercial uses all competing for access to and use of the fragile Gulf ecosystem.

Jordan's coastline segment of the Gulf of Aqaba (180 km long, 20 km wide) is only 27 km long. And being the only port in Jordan, and combined with this very limited sea access, Aqaba faces fierce competition among the various transport, tourism, commercial and industrial sectors desiring access or location next to this scarce coastal land resource. Because of the many development activities that have occurred here in the last decades, there has been substantial coastal and marine ecosystem deterioration and pollution caused by these growing demands.

With the creation of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone in 2000, and with this area's recognition as one of the prime engines of Jordan's growth and development, increased efforts by the Jordanian government as well as joint efforts by educational, private industry and the international community, have been focused on developing a growth management program for the zone. While promoting economic growth, there is major emphasis to insure maximum protection to the fragile coastal and marine environments. For example, due to the irreplaceable coral reefs within the zone, a variety of coral impact mitigation measure, including transplantation, are under scientific investigation to insure maximum protection.

Currently, only 7 km of the total 27 km shoreline is still in essentially its natural state and without ports facilities, hotels or industries. ASEZA, therefore, as part of its environmental protection laws and regulations, has designated this 7 kilometers of beach and coral reefs to be under the protection of a designated Aqaba Marine Park. The marine park and its supporting environmental legislation establish a strong foundation for marine environmental protection in the zone. However, for Aqaba to have continued economic growth and development, while also preserving and protecting its unique marine ecological resources, the zone will need to insure that the development and maintenance efforts of the various institutions, government agencies, community groups, the private sector and other stakeholders are discussed and coordinated in ways to insure the continued sustainability of the region.

 

Jordan's 27 km long Gulf of Aqaba coastline
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Coral reefs
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Aqaba's prime dive sites.
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Construction of New Jetties, Terminals and Quays
Marine Environmental Design Criteria
 
 
Marine structure are designed 
to allow maximum light penetration 
and minimal, if any, disturbance to corals 
or other aquatic ecosystems.
Click here for larger image.
The majority of the new marine structures will comprise a suspended deck of varying dimensions supported on driven tubular piles located either over a rubble revetment or open water. Mooring and berthing dolphins will not be that dissimilar in terms of construction techniques used. A typical section through such a facility is shown at left.
 
  ASEZA's and ADC's Proactive Environmental Enhancement, Monitoring and Enforcement Programs  
Law No. (32) for the Year 2000 established ASEZ and Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) the legal successor of the Aqaba Regional Authority which was at the level of other governorates where all ministries had departments. The law gives ASEZA the following environment-related responsibilities:

 

Article (9) F: ASEZA shall protect the environment in ASEZ.
Article (10) B 5: ASEZA shall assume responsibility for protecting the environment, water resources, natural resources and biological diversity.
Article (43) B: ASEZA shall administer the coastal areas.
Article (52): ASEZA shall be responsible for protecting and maintaining the environment in the Zone and for ensuring sustainable development according to a basis and standards set out by regulation and which are not to be below the adopted levels in the Kingdom.
Article (53): ASEZA is permitted powers of search and confiscation related to environmental protection.
Article (54 repeated (twice)): ASEZA is authorised to extract fines and compensation from polluters of the sea or the environment within the Zone.
Article (56) E: ASEZA is responsible for the regulation and administration of the Aqaba Marine Park .
Article (6) of the Law states that all legislation in force in the Kingdom shall apply to the Zone unless superseded by the provisions of this legislation.
 
Recommendations from the Initial Environmental Planning Report: Master Planning of the New South Ports and the Southern Industrial Zone (2006), quote:
 
The updating of the data on the most important environmental features within the South Zone and in particular a survey of the extent and condition of corals and sea grass in the area.
•Environmental audits of the phosphate loading, sulphur unloading, oil terminal operation and gypsum stockpiling.
•Preparation of an overarching EIA and EMP for the South Zone master plan which will also establish a framework for future individual project EIA/EMPs.
•Preparation of new regulations and standards covering soil conservation, land use, protection of terrestrial flora and fauna, noise pollution, seawater and air quality including greenhouse gas emissions, management and protection of the coastal zone, habitats and ecosystems, management and control of waste and
pollution prevention and control.
•Review of building codes to ensure the environmental sustainability and visual setting of new structures.
•A comprehensive planning exercise and needs assessment to establish the functions, activities, targets, resources required and budget for the EPD on a five year rolling programme.
•Future establishment of a project environmental management unit for the SouthZone development which would form part of the EPD.
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J Michael Cobb &  IDC Int'l Development Consultants, LLC. All rights reserved.