By the Reef Check EcoDiver Participants; Team Photo: Sandra Bracun
From February to April 2015, the Red Sea Environmental Center in Dahab, Egypt welcomed and trained more than 10 volunteers to carry out the nineteenth global survey of coral reefs in the northern Red Sea. German, Austrian, Spanish, Dutch and Swiss volunteers joined this project in order to get involved in the protection of the breathtaking underwater world. In collaboration with the Sinai Divers Backpackers and under the scientific supervision of Nina Milton, the multinational team collected data at six dive sites in the Dahab area at different depths (5 and 10 meters).
The Dahab Reef Monitoring Project began with a few presentations and lessons on Reef Check indicators. Additional indicators and impacts specific to the South Sinai region and the northern Red Sea were included. Twice a day, our team carried out underwater identification exercises to become familiar with the relevant fishes, invertebrates, and substrate types and to learn to recognize signs of coral disease, predation and breakages. After some buoyancy training and calibration dives, we were prepared to conduct the surveys. It was a great experience to observe and recognize so many things underwater that we normally wouldn’t even notice. We were very lucky on our dives; we saw turtles, nudibranchs, napoleons, giant morays, barracudas, various rays, and much more. However, the most amazing experience occurred during a survey at the Blue Hole when we saw a baby whale shark swimming peacefully along the reef!
All in all, the results show that most fish indicators, except for butterflyfish and surgeonfish, are absent or in low numbers. Few invertebrates were recorded, except for long spined sea urchins and giant clams. However, most of the giant clams measured were small in size. Few bleached corals were observed, but at some sites, damage to coral was frequent. It was very interesting to compare dive sites with low to high levels of anthropogenic impacts. At one of the favorite dive spots of our team, Abu Helal, the hard coral cover exceeded 50%, which is relatively high in comparison to the rest of the sites in this area. The absence of infrastructure, restaurants, or hotels in proximity to this site could be one of the reasons for the healthy condition of the reef. In contrast, the heavily dived site of Moray Garden, which only has 22% hard coral cover, suffers from a significant amount of coral damage (breakage and abrasion). Before carrying out the surveys, we tried to predict the situation we would find underwater by observations on land. It was surprising to discover that our expectations didn't always match reality. For this reason, we realized how important it is to keep conducting Reef Check surveys!