Saudi Arabia’s Mysterious Coral Reefs Documented by International Team
Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, partnered in the initial, 2-week expedition focused on coral abundance, diversity, and stress, along with the abundance and diversity of butterflyfish, sea urchins, seagrasses, and other species that may indicate the health of this critical environment. Preliminary results suggest that some life forms may be healthier or more diverse in southern Gulf of Aqaba waters further from denser human populations. More data and analyses are needed to verify the possible significance of trends, and the researchers aim for another expedition in summer 2017.
The Gulf of Aqaba is bordered by Egypt on the west, Israel and Jordan in the north, and Saudi Arabia on the east. Though relatively small—about 111 miles long (180 kilometers) and 12 miles wide (20 km)—the gulf is one of the northernmost living coral reef ecosystems and estimated to host approximately 210 species of hard corals and 120 species of soft corals. Coastal development and industry are denser in and around the northern-gulf cities of Eilat, Israel, and Aqaba, Jordan, while the Saudi Arabian coast is far less populous and its waters are far less studied.
“I have had the good fortune to lead comprehensive, multiyear studies with colleagues in the northern gulf since the mid-1990s, and the Gulf of Aqaba is known for its beautiful coral reefs. However, the Saudi Arabian portion of this significant body of water is largely unexplored—in particular, comprehensive studies of reef biodiversity and coral health down the length of this coast are lacking,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and chief executive officer of Mote and leading US partner in the expedition.
“With this expedition, we’ve initiated the first in what we expect to be a continuous time series of multidiscipline data acquisition and analyses spanning from the northern border with Jordan south along the Saudi Arabian coast of the gulf and into the Straits of Tiran. We’re excited to partner with the outstanding marine science faculty and students of King Abdulaziz University to gather these baseline data, which are necessary for understanding and addressing emerging challenges to their coral reefs.”