Red Sea Coastline Biodiversity Explored in New Wildlife & Ecosystem Study

Red Sea Coastline Biodiversity Explored in New Wildlife & Ecosystem Study

Study from Red Sea Global builds on results of the largest ever environmental baseline survey completed by a developer released last year

Red Sea Global, the developer behind the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism projects, The Red Sea and Amaala, has released the findings of one of the world’s largest environmental surveys of wildlife ecosystems conducted by a developer, carried out along 250 kilometers of Red Sea coastline.

The comprehensive study covers natural ecosystems and species across the areas of Red Sea Global’s two flagship destinations – The Red Sea, centered around Al Wajh lagoon, and, slightly north of that area, Amaala.

The study was conducted by a dedicated and expert scientific team at Red Sea Global, but has also been supported by partner groups from across the globe to ensure that cutting edge methods and technologies are deployed to monitor critical resources.

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“Throughout our organization, at the heart of everything we do, lies the conviction that responsible development and regenerative tourism are essential in the fight to protect the natural habitats of our world’s precious marine and coastal areas,” said John Pagano, Group CEO of Red Sea Global.

Mr Pagano added: “That’s why we’re pioneering the creation of new benchmarks for our industry. We aim to push beyond conservation and explore innovative ways to regenerate the natural ecosystems in which we operate.

"We’ve set a quantifiable target of achieving a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040, and we will continue to publish annual updates that measure our progress toward this ambitious goal.

"Key to that is setting a baseline from which we track progress, and ensuring we are fully informed and understand the incredible biodiversity that surrounds our developments."

Key Findings

The survey along the Red Sea coast, conducted throughout 2022, revealed that many threatened and endangered species inhabit the area, and have established breeding grounds across it – highlighting the importance of environmental protection and regeneration efforts by Red Sea Global and others in the region.

Key findings of the study include

Observations of endangered species indicate that the destination is a critically important location for conservation and breeding:

74 Hawksbill and 145 Green sea turtle nesting tracks were recorded at Amaala and 251 Hawksbill and 613 Green turtle nesting tracks at The Red Sea. From these numbers we estimate that at Amaala there were around 19 Hawksbill and 40 Green turtle females nesting at Amaala, and 69 Hawksbills and 173 Green turtle females nesting at The Red Sea this year.

Given female turtles do not breed every year, the total population of the area would be considerably larger.

17 Sooty falcon breeding pairs were observed at Amaala and 48 breeding pairs in The Red Sea.

There were multiple sightings of critically endangered Halavi guitarfish juveniles at a number of locations in our area, and clear evidence that our area includes important nursery habitats for the species.

Sighting in the Amaala area of a pair of Orca (killer whales). This species is a rare visitor to the Red Sea, with fewer than 10 previous reports within the area. The observation at Amaala is by some distance the most northerly sighting we are aware of for this species in the region.

Analysis of the nesting grounds and breeding success of bird species on our islands yield positive results:

In Amaala, a total of 2,129 nests were counted of seven species, while at The Red Sea (a much larger area), the second year of island bird populations monitoring revealed more than 25,000 nests of the 11 species we survey.

Two Osprey nests occupied by breeding pairs were found on An Numan, with both pairs having successfully fledged all seven of their chicks by the second visit. Two further nests occupied by breeding pairs were found on Nabgiyah and Awandia.

• In addition to Osprey, breeding pairs or colonies of six species of birds were discovered on Amaala islands - the most abundant species were Lesser-crested terns and Bridled terns. Though breeding success was variable across The Red Sea, success was estimated for seven species including the Great and Lesser crested tern, Sooty falcon, and the Red-billed tropicbird.

The population status of reef fishes shows an abundance of marine life across Amaala and The Red Sea areas, with some notable endangered species sighted:

• Although smaller in area than The Red Sea, Amaala marine habitats still contain many impressive reefs, with coral cover averaging 21.5% and highest cover at any site being 57.2%.

• 193 fish species were recorded during the 69 Amaala surveys, with the most diverse families being Wrasse (36 species) and Damselfishes (24 species).

• Two endangered reef fish species including the Sky emperor and Humphead wrasse were identified by the Amaala survey team, while four vulnerable species were also spotted: Bumphead parrotfish; Harlequin filefish and two species of coral grouper (Plectropomus areolatus and P. marisrubri).

• Reef sharks were more frequently seen at Amaala (12 of 69 sites) than at The Red Sea (six of 82 sites) this year. All the sharks seen during in-water surveys by the coral reef team this year were white tip reef sharks (Trianodon obesus).

• The resurveys of core monitoring sites at The Red Sea (at 82 of the 280 surveyed for 2021 baseline) showed only small changes in coral cover or fish biomass between years.

Rapid assessment surveys achieved improved understanding of the carbon sequestering potential of seagrasses:

• The surveys team conducted seagrass rapid assessment surveys at 250 locations across The Red Sea and Amaala.

• Overall, 10 of the 12 seagrass species found in the Red Sea basin have been encountered in The Red Sea area and seven in Amaala.

• Larger species such as Enhalus acoroides, Thalassia hemprichii and, especially, Thalassodendron ciliatum, contribute to substrate stabilization and sediment accumulation, and hence to enhanced carbon sequestration. Those species have extended root systems that trap sediment and allow them to withstand wave action in mud substrate.

Moving Forward

To build a more detailed picture of the trends identified in the study, the research team has deployed best-in-class technology to continue capturing crucial data on an ongoing basis such as by recording multiple physical, chemical, and biotic variables across the region, alongside remotely-sensed (satellite) data for larger areas.

As part of this study, ongoing monitoring has also been established and put in place. This includes the GPS and satellite tagging of 30+ Sooty falcons, to better understand their breeding and hunting patterns, as well as the satellite tagging of several recently rehabilitated Hawksbill sea turtles – furthering our understanding of foraging patterns.

“Red Sea Global is an organization led by science, which prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the environments in which it operates. Our incredible team of local and international scientists are testament to the commitment made by the leadership of the group to show tourism can be a force for good and demonstrate meaningful examples of more responsible approaches to the way we develop and operate,” added Dr Omar Al Attas, Head of Environmental Protection and Regeneration, Red Sea Global.

This study not only informs development decisions at Red Sea Global, in order to minimize potential negative impact on the natural ecosystems of the region, but also showcases the latest initiative from the organization in its commitment to prioritizing planet and people.

These studies form the initial benchmark for Red Sea Global to measure itself against its stringent commitment to leaving the environment across its destinations a more thriving and naturally healthier place than it was before.

Alongside the benefits to Red Sea Global’s sustainable tourism practices, these findings also contribute important insights and data on endangered wildlife species to the global scientific community, aiding worldwide conservation efforts.

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