During our last survey in Samadai we were joined by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara who, as many of you know, besides being a renowned conservationist, has given a great contribution to the design and establishment of Samadai as a protected area. This was happening in 2004. His recent visit, eight years after the beginning of this successful pilot conservation initiative, has brought about thoughts and considerations that we would like to share with you.
Extract from HEPCA January Newsletter, by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara.
A few days ago I returned to Samadai after an absence of six years, and before arriving there I feared disappointment. As it often happens these days in our fast degrading world, it is never too wise to compare reality with our past memories, particularly when these concern the delicate balance of a small, highly vulnerable coral reef, a sitting duck under the crossfire of the mounting pressures of tourism growth, climate change, overfishing and other threats. But as I soon discovered, I did not need to fear.
The turquoise oasis of calmness amidst the fury of sea waves surrounding it from the open sea greeted me as it had always done in the past, when I was frequenting the reef leading a research project supported by Italy. And yes, there were no less than 120 spinner dolphins happily resting inside the lagoon. The visit gave me the notion that the magic of Samadai keeps working in spite of the degrade surrounding it, right there in the Red Sea like everywhere else on the planet; and I stood in awe of the governance process, originated in the late 2003, which led to the management of the site and to securing the continued presence of the splendid dolphins which have elected Samadai as their resting place from time immemorial. Because of those dolphins, Samadai is one of the few protected sites in Egypt that generates revenues instead of costing to society, and these revenues, deriving from the entrance fees, are in large parts reinvested to support marine conservation and Egypt’s natural heritage. However, if it is true that Samadai is an environmental jewel, what is also true is that its contribution could be even greater than it is today. Much greater.
First, as often recommended, management should be adaptive. Our studies had demonstrated that it is in the afternoon when the dolphins become more active and amenable to interact with swimming visitors, whereas during the morning all they want is to be left in peace while they rest in the innermost reaches of the No-Entry zone. Accordingly, swim visits should be encouraged in the afternoons and discouraged in the mornings, because in this way the visitors will be happier and the dolphins will not risk unwanted disturbance when they are resting.
Second, the interpretation is almost completely lacking and unstructured. There is extraordinary potential for transmitting knowledge and enthusiasm to visitors: from the very beginning of the trip when still on land; during the boat trip towards Samadai; on the top deck of the boats when moored in Samadai, which give excellent opportunities for doing pre-visit dolphin watching and explanation, with binoculars and perhaps even a hydrophone to hear the dolphins’ whistling and creaking; and during debrief and question time after the swim. Quite importantly, visitors must be psychologically prepared to the possibility that there might not be dolphins, because these wild mammals are the symbols of freedom and they are free to choose not to be in Samadai on some days if they wish so. However, this should not be seen as a disgrace because Samadai is not an aquarium but a portion of the real world, and visiting it must be perceived as a privilege regardless of the dolphins’ presence.
All this, and many other things, should and could be immediately done, with the result of improving greatly the quality of the “Samadai experience” for its visitors, without even minimally increasing the impact on the dolphins.
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