Dolphin Sanctuary declared in Hurghada!

Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) are mostly found in coastal waters, often nearby reefs and islands, and are known to be among the species most available for interaction with divers and snorkelers. Hurghada’s coastal ecosystems would represent an ideal area for the species, however major anthropogenic impacts are likely to threat the conservation of the Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins inhabiting these waters. With dozens of boats sailing the Hurghada area every day, many concerns over the dolphins’ wild population arose since consequences of boating and tourism at sea can range from oil pollution to, particularly bad for acoustic animals, noise; from unregulated dolphin watching and swimming-with operation to bad practices eventually affecting ecosystems’ balance (i.e. feeding, fishing).

With the support of the data and observation collected over the last years by our colleague Angela Ziltener and Spiritual World Diving Federation (SWDF), we could understand more about the species’ ecology: DolphinWatch, the project they run, tells us that there seems to be a small and residential population of Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins distributed in the region, visiting sites such as Fanous, Shaab El Erg and Gobal Island where they come to rest and socialize.

Their daily observations at sea, together with experiences from many other operators and guides, opened our eyes on the other side of the coin: a dolphin frenzy that doesn’t know any limits or rules, with “excitement” that often goes beyond. HEPCA has received many reports concerning boats chasing and running over pods of dolphins full speed, totally disrespectful to simple best practices that the common sense would suggest. Some boat operators take the dolphin chase to an extent that not even the presence of other boats, snorkelers and divers in the water acts as a deterrent.

With the aim of, one day, create a network of protected sites for the wild population, a first step was taken: HEPCA presented a proposal to the Governor of the Red Sea for the closure of a part of Fanous Reef, one of the most popular sites in Hurghada area, known to be visited by dolphins and among the closest to shore. The plan was formalized by the Governor and ratified in the Decree 379/2011:  the south-western corner of the reef, preferred by dolphins and also acting as a popular dive and snorkeling site, has been closed to boat traffic. Vessels used to cross the channel and move along the reef in the attempt of enjoying the dolphins as much as possible, imposing unlimited level of stress and disturbance to the animals as well as representing a major threat for people in the water.

The area is now closed for vessels but open for snorkelers and divers that can freely access it from the inner lagoon or the outer reef. Together with the decree, a suggested code of conduct is also being divulged: it means to provide information on the best practices to adopt when approaching wild dolphins on board a vessel or swimming with them. We kindly invite you to adopt them and report to us any kind of violations.

 

Madda (HEPCA Team)

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