Ras Mohammed National Park: Egypt’s underwater paradise among the best protected marine reserves on the planet

Ras Mohammed National Park received the IUCN Green List certificate at a ceremony in the reserve on 24th November, 2018, as part of the UN Biodiversity Conference in neighbouring Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The award recognises the fair and effective management efforts that have ensured the protection and survival of natural ecosystems, especially coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses.

Coral reef in Ras Mohammed National Park

At the packed event held in a Bedouin camp on the shores of the Marine Reserve, the Egyptian Minister of Environment, Her Excellency Dr. Yasmine Fouad received the certificate, along with the Reserve Manager and all staff and stakeholders involved in this success story.

I am really proud of our achievement and most especially for all the hard-working men and women of Ras Mohammed. This shows that Egypt can achieve successful conservation and should inspire other protected areas in the country and in the region to raise their game and reach these global standards.”, she stated.

Ras Mohammed National Park was established in 1986, and is Egypt’s oldest. Importantly for a Marine Protected Area the coast and hinterland is also under conservation management. This ‘ridge to reef’ approach makes sure land-based impacts, such as coastal development and agricultural and waste run-off, do not jeopardize fragile marine ecosystems.

Indeed, the IUCN Green List evaluation highlighted the richness of the waters of Ras Mohammed. Coral reefs are regularly monitored and show up to 90% live coral cover in some areas, with an average of over 65%. By comparison, areas outside the reserve are typically 20-30% live coral cover. There are over 210 species of corals, including a high diversity of soft coral species. Many rare marine animals find haven in the reserve, and several locally-important species for community-based and commercial fisheries are well protected throughout their life-cycle.

Over 340 km2 of seas are completely no-take, including the reef area as well as the large upwelling of deep water at the confluence of the Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba. Tourism is thriving as visitors can benefit from controlled access to the vibrant coral reefs. Turtles, dolphins, manta rays, sharks and dugong are all frequently encountered by divers and snorkelers.

The Local Bedouin community have an exclusive tourism concession within the protected area, including a beachside camp that allows unprecedented access to prime reef areas for their visitors. This arrangement ensures local benefits from hospitality and avoids elite capture of the marine reserve’s tourism bounty.

The IUCN Green List certificate will prove to tourists that they are visiting a well-managed site. The certification process is rigorous. A regional Expert Assessment Group evaluated the site against 50 indicators, including good governance, effective management, sound design and planning, and delivery of conservation results. The evaluation process included a site visit and was further assured by an auditor. The final decision was validated by the independent global Green List Committee.

The Reserve management still have areas to improve, and some conditions apply that will need to be met to maintain their Green List status over time. For now, however, Ras Mohammed is one of the world’s top 10 sites recognized for effective management of marine ecosystems, and the first marine protected area in Africa and in the Middle East region.

The IUCN Green List recognition is fantastic reward for our staff.”, said Waleed Hassan, the reserve manager. “The process helped us improve and really focus on the important values of the Park. We will now put in place a new management plan that will help keep us meeting the Green List standards in the future.”

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