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The coral reefs of the the Red Sea are generally in good shape, with rich, biodiverse reefs the rule, especially in the Red Sea. This is partly due to a large land area inhospitable to humans, and a relative lack of major population centers. But the oil industry is, as always, a major pollution threat throughout the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Coastal development continues to destroy mangroves, and damage from coral reef tourism is on the rise, especially in the Red Sea's northern Gulf of Aqaba.

The reefs off the coast of Egypt are threatened by pollution from poorly regulated Saudi and Egyptian oil fields and related population centers, as well as the de-ballasting of ships moving through the heavily trafficked Suez region. Lobster are overfished in the Sinai region, and sharks are reportedly declining for unknown reasons. Increasing tourism is a major stress: Throughout the Red Sea region, sewage and runoff from hotels cause eutrophication problems. Landfilling and sedimentation from tourist development has destroyed large parts of the reefs off Hurghada, and desalinization runoff from hotels in Al Quseir threatens reef health there. Further north, on the Gulf of Aqaba, resort development in Sharm el Sheikh is exploding, and the hotels of Dahab are importing fine sand for their beaches, smothering corals. As tourism grows, peoples' collisions with reefs become inevitable, as when the Royal Viking Sun struck and damaged Red Sea corals in April 1996; Egypt held the Cunard luxury liner until its owners paid a $23.5 million fine later that month.

Despite Sudan's ongoing civil war, clumsy tourism by untrained divers continues to damage its Sha'ab Rumi and Sanganeb reefs, among the richest in the Red Sea. A London Times reporter in April 1997 filed this lament: "Corals were being hung on to and dislodged in the strong currents, fragile staghorn and fire corals were being broken into pieces by careless fin kicks or being landed on as a result of poor buoyancy control. A diver was seen to sit on a large brain coral to pose for the camera. Photographers regularly sit, lie or kneel on corals while taking photographs. In one case I observed a pair of divers remove large chunks of the reef to get a closer view of a moray eel hiding in a crevice, only to find the eel swim off in a panic. Much worse: at the Cousteau Precontinant II study area, on Sha'ab Rumi reef, many of the corals are dead. Some of the extremely large table corals...stand now as great, lifeless skeletons."

Eritrea has a huge coral reef complex centered on its offshore islands in the Red Sea; tourism centered on the world-class scuba diving is on the upswing, and expected to boom. However, the republic is still poor and disorganized because of the continuing wars with Ethiopia, that tourist facilities at the nearest port, Massawa, are still minimal.

Because of a seasonal cool-water upwelling, the coast of Somalia has only a few well-developed coral reefs, along its southern coast and the adjacent Bajuni Islands, and a few patch reefs off Mogadishu. These are threatened, like all East African reefs, with sedimentation from erosion and agricultural runoff, overfishing, blast fishing, and depletion of the coastal mangrove trees vital to reef health.     


Though the Indian Ocean is large and biologically diverse, corals here face enormous overall pressure from population increases and illegal fishing methods like dynamite blast fishing and cyanide fishing. Also, sediment runoff from agriculture has been a problem region-wide, smothering corals offshore. The United Nations Environment Program estimated that 20 percent of the region's coral reefs had already been destroyed—and that was in 1984.

For decades, Kenya's extensive patch and fringing reefs near shore have been depleted by exploitive collection of coral; chunks of dead reef are still sold to tourists on the white-sand beaches south of Mombasa. Kenyan corals are also being damaged by destructive fishing practices (dynamite and cyanide) and trampled by fishermen and dive tourists. Widespread bleaching disease has been reported in the area in recent years.

Tanzania has well-developed patch and fringing reefs near shore, but its fisheries have been overexploited with destructive techniques, and its reefs damaged by heavy coral mining; over 250 tons of shells and corals were exported in 1974 alone. Widespread bleaching has been reported, and eutrophication (fertilizer and sewage overnutrition) has damaged corals off the capital, Dar es Salaam, and off the well-touristed island of Zanzibar. In March 1998, Tanzania's vice president Omar Ali Juma gave a shot in the arm to the country's fight against dynamite fishing along its coast. "We must fight the illegal dynamite fishing to protect our marine resources for the benefit of our nation and our future generations," Juma declared, urging participants at a seminar to review existing laws, regulations, and penalties governing dynamite fishing.

Like Kenya and Tanzania, Mozambique has well-developed patch and fringing reefs afflicted with similar human-caused problems—mining, blast fishing, agricultural runoff—and some unique ones too. In December 1996 Mozambique granted American gold trader James Blanchard a 50-year lease on 583,000 acres of forests, lakes, beaches, and coral reefsÑessentially the entire coast south of the capital, Maputo, to the South Africa border. Blanchard, a Louisianan, plans to build four Club Med-ish "holiday resorts, nine 'beach resorts,' two holiday villages, 350 private holiday homes, a railway line, two casinos and a yacht marina," reports the Economist. "To top it off, Mr. Blanchard...plans to float a Mississippi paddle steamer in the bay." Incredibly, Blanchard originally planned to build a "Bushman village" but that scheme, the Economist notes drily, has been "quietly dropped: the nearest Bush-men live some...620 miles away." As of March 1998, Blanchard Mozambique Enterprises had invested just $4 million of the projected $780 million the eager government anticipates, mainly for fencing and the restocking of 40 animals.

In addition to bleaching disease, the fringing reefs around the Comoro Islands have been hammered by human impacts: coral and coral-sand mining, sediment from agricultural runoff, and, on one occasion, a huge jetliner falling out of the sky. In November 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into a near-shore Comoros coral reef just yards from scuba-diving tourists, killing 123 of the 175 people on board. The hijackers, one of whom appeared to be drunk, apparently did not believe the pilot when he said the plane was running out of fuel.

Corals in the Seychelles grow mostly in small fringing reefs, but a few atolls have magnificent reef formations; one of them, Aldabra, is a U.N.-designated World Heritage Site. Sediment from farm runoff is smothering reefs here, and shell collectors have stripped beaches of many species of corals. Conservationists take note: Forbes magazine ran a 1997 story with the almost impossibly gauche headline "So Buy Yourself an Island," describing how any average Joe with $20 million lying around could buzz down to the Seychelles and buy Daros, an isolated 1,100-acre coral-atoll island group, from Iran's ex-rulers the Pahlavi family—complete with airstrip.     

Best known for its unique and endangered fauna on land, this huge island nation is also edged by extensive coral reefs of all types, which unfortunately suffer from extensive mining of coral and coral sand. The government, however, is increasingly conservation-minded: In October 1997 Madagascar created the 840-square-mile Masoala National Park, which encompasses an extensive coral reef and whale breeding ground, among other features.

The emblematic locus of human-caused extinctions, Mauritius is the Indian Ocean island where marauding Homo sapiens in the 1600s wiped from the face of the earth forever Raphus cucullatus, the dodo. Now the coral reefs here face decline at the hands of our hypersuccessful species. Reefs all over East Africa are falling victim to coral collection and coral sand mining, especially those in Mauritius; more than 500,000 tons of sand is excavated yearly from the island. Fisheries here have been over-exploited, and eutrophication (overnutrition due to fertilizer and sewage runoff) has damaged corals off Port Louis, opening the door to competitor organisms like algae. Tourism, too, is a rising threat: The government has said it intends to allow the tourism industry to grow up to 10 percent annually—which would double it in just seven years.

A small volcanic island controlled by France, Reunion's fringing reefs suffer from tourist-related impacts, specifically the overcollection of coral, or "trophy hunting." One expert told the London Independent in 1990 that "there may be more coral from Mauritius and Reunion on the West's coffee tables than remains in their own waters."