The Aqaba Marine Protected Area -- Integration of Marine Science and Resource Management in the Gulf of Aqaba-Red Sea  

Mohammad Khaleel Al-Zibdah
Department of Marine Biology, Marine Science Faculty, University of Jordan, 77110 Aqaba, Jordan
Author    Correspondence author
International Journal of Marine Science, 2013, Vol. 3, No. 44   doi: 10.5376/ijms.2013.03.0044
Received: 09 Aug., 2013    Accepted: 16 Sep., 2013    Published: 18 Oct., 2013
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Al-Zibdah, 2013, The Aqaba Marine Protected Area----Integration of Marine Science and Resource Management in the Gulf of Aqaba-Red Sea, International Journal of Marine Science, Vol.3, No.44 361-367 (doi: 10.5376/ijms.2013.03.0044)

Aqaba has great strategic importance being Jordan’s only maritime access point. Within this geographically restricted area there is a need to accommodate industry, trade, and tourism with concurrent environmental conservation practices. Jordan has recognized the need to follow a plan that deals with the entire coastal zone and its full range of resources in a comprehensive manner to avoid severe conflicts over coastal space and resource utilization. The plan presented here describes the best possible compromise between the different interests through harmonizing coastal activities to support a broader set of overarching national goals for the Jordanian coast.

The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) established a national Marine Protected Area (MPA) as part of the master plan of the coastal resources embodying the coral reserve along the coast. The MPA was established to conserve and manage the natural near-shore marine environment of the south coast with its rich biodiversity while allowing certain tourist uses. At the same time, the MPA supports efforts to conduct research and monitoring programs on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the northern Gulf of Aqaba and the near shore coral reefs. Currently, the MPA in Aqaba plays a significant role in strengthening the regional capability for information exchange and resource management for the entire Red Sea. In order to lay the groundwork for integrated coastal zone management in Jordan’s Gulf of Aqaba and for a long-standing working relationship between the regional countries, issues of environmental management and conservation are discussed.
Marine protected area; Gulf of Aqaba; Red Sea; Integrated coastal zone management; Near shore reef protection

Humankind is perhaps only now grasping the concepts needed to manage relations between people and the oceans (Kelleher and Kenchington, 1991; Crosby, 1997; Kelleher et al., 1995; Eichbaum et al., 1996). The new generations of marine and coastal protected areas are increasingly important mechanisms to advance the protection of marine biodiversity (Eichbaum et al., 1996; Agardy et al., 2003). The Northern Gulf of Aqaba is a limited, over-exploited coastal zone disturbed by diverse anthropogenic activities (Crosby et al., 2000; Portman, 2007). Because of the restricted water exchange and sensitivity of the marine ecosystems, it poses a continuing threat to the environment (and on some occasions to public health). In order to facilitate the incorporation of new and existing knowledge into the Aqaba Marine Protected Area (AMPA) management, new paradigms have been developed to include interaction, multi-disciplinary science and education efforts. However, such a model requires that applied research and technical development become a priority within the management and scientific community. Scientists and managers in Aqaba were working together in order to identify and understand the ecological, economic and social driving forces behind the loss of marine biodiversity and destruction of marine and coastal ecosystems at some locations along the Jordanian coast of Gulf of Aqaba. ASEZA as well as other environmental organizations are currently applying much of their efforts toward protecting against environmental degradation through the support of sound environmental management. A common means to facilitate a full use of coastal marine habitats in a sustainable fashion is the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) approach. The ICZM should determine the type and extent of use of the different sites based on the best information and the best science available (Hiscock, et al. 2003). However, subsequent progress in this regard has been slow due to various reasons, including inadequate scientific infrastructure capable to initiate or support regulations for sustainable uses. Hence, scientists and planners shared efforts through the initiation of long-term monitoring for marine ecosystem. The aim is to determine the ecological and socio-economic impact of various management strategies for the entire coastal line and for the AMPA as a case study addressing the issue of integration between science and management. Consequently, laying a sound foundation for the sustainability of integrated marine and coastal protected area to be recognized and respected. This study discussed the scientific outcomes of research and monitoring (R&M) on the prevailing environmental condition and its integration into a comprehensive management program in Gulf of Aqaba. Collectively, the role of marine science (R&M) to serve national conservation issues and resource management for proactive conservation measures in this region.

1 Material and Methods
A number of related environmental issues and existing conditions were investigated and analyzed based on different knowledge resources in Aqaba. Literature, interviews with various stakeholders and field measurements on ecological parameters of the marine environment were implemented aiming at identifying the pressing marine environmental issues in the Jordanian coastal area. This includes a foundation of integrated data management and comprehensive scientific assessment of coral reef resources and related processes in the Gulf that are critical to understanding the ecological actions and reactions caused by their management decisions. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of results were made in order to understand the best practices needed to integrate the various issues for better utilization of resources and provision of scientific facts for the coastal habitats of Aqaba. The Aqaba MPA, which occupies a significant part of the Jordanian coast with an overall aim of wise management, can be used as a model of integration between the resources and marine sciences. Facts and resources that are discussed in the following paragraphs represent most of the pressing issues along the Jordanian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Gulf of Aqaba and the Jordanian coast, showing major human activities

2 Results
2.1 Jordan’s coastal water of the Gulf of Aqaba
Jordan has a single sea outlet of about 27 km on the northeastern part of the Red Sea (Figure 1). The Gulf of Aqaba is a semi-enclosed water basin of about 180 km in length and of about 15 km average width, connected to the semi-enclosed Red Sea. Surface water from the Red Sea enters the Gulf of Aqaba through the Straits of Tiran. Persistent nutrient depletion occurs because of phytoplankton uptake along the entire coastal line of Red Sea (Al-Najjar, 2000). Therefore nutrient concentrations of the surface water in the northern Gulf of Aqaba are very low. In addition, nutrient inputs from land are generally minor because of the severe arid conditions prevail in this area. Accordingly, the phytoplankton productivity and chlorophyll concentrations are very low (Al-Najjar, 2000) with clean blue water (Figure 2). The ambient nitrate and phosphate concentrations during summer stratification (May-September) are less than 0.1 and 0.03 mmol L-1, respectively (Badran et al., 2005; Rasheed et al., 2002). The rich coral reefs in Gulf of Aqaba are distinctive to these oligotrophic conditions that rely on filtration from open sea as their main nutrient supply. While the surface water is nutrient deficient, the deep water is in contrary with a relatively high content might be due to regeneration of sinking particulate organic matter (Rasheed et al., 2002, Badran and Al-Zibdah, 2005).

Figure 2 Annual cycle of basic seawater characteristics temperature "", nitrate "µ mole L-1" and chlorophyll a "µ g L-1" in waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea (source: marine environmental appraisal of the Gulf of Aqaba, annual report, 2011)

2.2 Inadequate resources vs. rapid population growth in Aqaba
Jordan is geographically disadvantaged and can claim no exclusive economic zone. This leaves the country forced to practice all of its maritime activities within the limited space available. Being a young state, Jordan began to utilize its coastal resources only recently, (1980). During this relatively short period maritime activities have increased substantially.
Yet the activities of tourism, sport and commercial fishing, shipping of oil and other hazardous materials, wastewater and solid waste disposal, mariculture and industrial development threaten the vulnerable coral reef ecosystem (see Figure 1). The population of the city of Aqaba has increased from about 5,000 in 1955 to above 100,000 in 2006. This growth is expected to continue and the tourist load continues to grow as the tourist infrastructure develops. According to the Aqaba Master Plan prepared by ASEZA, an additional 3000 hotel rooms are planned among 11 hotels and two tourist villages in the southern coast (holiday home complex and Golf Courses and Amusement Parks). Some of these plans are already under construction.
The typical nitrate and phosphate concentrations in deep water are 2-4 and 0.2-0.3 mmol L-1, respectively (Badran et al., 2005).
Surface cooling and the formation of a mixed layer that deepens during fall and winter were observed to gradually erode the summer stratification (Manasrah et al., 2004). This process supplies nutrients that were stored in the deep water to the upper water column (photic zone) and creates a winter phytoplankton bloom (Badran, 2001; Badran and Foster, 1998). Nutrient levels rise as a result of diminishing nutrient utilization and increasing regeneration of phytoplankton that mixes with the water which spends most of the time below the photic zone. The elevated nutrient levels are utilized by macro algae that bloom during this period in the shallow benthic environments including the coral reefs (Genin et al., 1995). Two major benthic habitats, coral reefs and sea grass beds characterize the Jordanian coastline. The reefs are of the fringing type with the scleractinian corals as the main frame-building organisms. Corals in Aqaba host large number of associated fauna (Khalaf and Disi, 1997). Sea grass beds however, extend mainly on the sandy beach at the utmost northern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba (Al-Zibdah et al., 2008; Al-Zibdah and Badran, 2004).
2.3 Tradition and culture of public in Gulf of Aqaba
Until early fifties, Aqaba was small fishing village providing a sufficient fish catch to the community. Development of ports was the first major industry to establish itself on the coast. Ports spread rapidly and covered about 30% of the entire coast. Other coastal investments that followed were mainly tourist oriented as well as industry that is based on the Jordanian phosphate rock resource. Nevertheless, the ecological aspects were considered early in the planning strategy. One of the most significant management tools adopted in Jordan is the declaration of 7 km of about 25% of the Jordanian coast as a marine reserve. This has pronounced benefits for the marine environment, but creates excessive pressure on the fishing community since it limits their already extremely limited fishing grounds. Industry and tourism also occupy a substantial part of the Jordanian coast (Al-Zibdah and Badran 2004). Mega tourist projects such at the southern and at the northern coasts tend not to use the available coastline only, but to create additional artificial coastline especially at the north.
2.4 The resort of Aqaba Vs. environmental conservation
With respect to the sea, desert and climate, Aqaba enjoys a distinctive location as a coastal city with desert winds. More than 90% of the wind that blows in Aqaba is northerly coming from the desert, which leaves relative humidity rarely exceeding the limit of 50% (Badran and Foster, 1998; Badran, 2001). Sunny skies in Aqaba exceed 330 days per year and are quite common even in winter. Aqaba enjoys in a richly diverse coral reefs and beautiful sand beaches as well as crystal blue seawater. These unique features of Aqaba are increasingly threatened by an accelerated development including boat anchoring, sport fishing, shipping of oil and coastal industrial expansion (Sandlers et al., 1994; Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plans #21060-IS and 21059-EGT, 2000).
2.5 Implementation of ICZM in Aqaba
Ever since defining the Gulf of Aqaba Action Plans in 1993, 2005, and 2012 several practical steps have been realized. Amongst these is the implementation of a coastal environment monitoring program and the preparation of coastal zone management guidelines for the south coast. This is together with management guidelines to enforce the Aqaba Marine Protected Area (AMPA). The program of AMPA calls for full partnership between resource management agencies and marine research institutions as well as other stakeholders and coast users. The program is a joint undertaking on the Gulf of Aqaba that fosters cooperation between the different governmental and non-government agencies leading to greater conservation and sustainable use of the outstanding coral reef ecosystem resources. Main goal of the program is to provide resource managers with the scientific understanding of the basic ecological processes in the Gulf of Aqaba and the impacts of human activities on those resources. The research and monitoring (R & M) together with the AMPA management teams from ASEZA and Marine Science Station (MSS) coordinate activities update work plans and discuss trends and issues for coastal zone management. The close coordination between the ASEZA management and the MSS research help significantly in the integration of data generated from the R & M into management decisions. A joint database was also developed on the biological, chemical and physical parameters including information on basic water circulation patterns in the Gulf of Aqaba. With a lead from ASEZA both teams initiated a coordinated long-term monitoring and research program for the coral reef ecosystem and biodiversity (Figure 3). ASEZA and MSS carried out several joint training programs for their resource managers and AMPA staff in order to strengthen the working relationship of the two agencies. Training programs included subjects of database use and management, communication technology, conservation and management strategies. The AMPA program therefore considered two major interconnected components, the cooperative management and outreach (CMO) and cooperative research and monitoring (CRM).

Figure 3 General bottom habitat characteristics: percentage cover of hard corals and other associated living and non living components at the northern, middle and southern parts of the Jordanian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. (Source: marine environmental appraisal of Gulf of Aqaba, annual report, 2011)

3 Discussions
The AMPA is a pioneering effort to employ a new paradigm for coupling a scientific approach with the development of improved marine protected area management strategies in order to sustain a vital marine ecological system in Gulf of Aqaba.
Rapid development in the economic activities and population increases in Aqaba has led the government of Jordan, through ASEZA, to undertake the management of AMPA as a matter of urgency. The AMPA objectives are toconserve and manage the natural near-shore marine environment of the Aqaba south coast region with its rich biodiversity while allowing for certain tourist uses at sustainable levels. AMPA is located south of the city of Aqaba of about 7 km in length, stretching from the passenger terminal in the north to the police officers’ club in the south (Portman, 2007). The area’s terrestrial boundary lies 50 m east of the mean high water mark and the marine boundary lies 350 m west of the mean high water mark. Today’s AMPA have evolved considerably from the traditional model of the terrestrial park and can achieve far more than the protection of critical habitats and endangered species. In support of the area’s awareness activities a series of publications including videos, posters, brochures, photo libraries etc. has been compiled online for the use of interested parties to act as a resource center for the advancement of marine conservation activities in Aqaba and the region. Additional important niches that the modern AMPA fills are public education and outreach, as well as serving as a physical reminder of the social, economic and ecological benefits of marine and coastal resource protection. The multiple-use AMPA addresses the different sets of objectives of myriad stakeholders, thereby providing a framework for resolving conflict between various users of marine and coastal ecosystem services.
The AMPA program has contributed to adequate information essential for coastal zone monitoring, with emphasis on coral reef main locations. It includes traditional monitoring parameters (see Figures 3 and Figures 4) as well as new parameters (Benzvi et al., 2011) to provide early-warning monitoring system (Figure 5). The scientific platform for the early-warning monitoring used is based on available data obtained during the past two decades by marine science researchers in Jordan (i.e. community status, recruitment rates, organisms’ health and Deterioration Index). These data have been integrated into an Ecological Quality Index (EQI) which is expected to assist decision makers in evaluating coastal sites, and to determine, accordingly, the type and extent of use of the sites along the Jordanian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Figure 4 Fish community parameters (number of species, average abundance, species richness and diversity) of different habitats (SG: sea grass, CR: coral reef) in years 2003, 2004 & 2005 surveys. (Source: marine environmental appraisal of Gulf of Aqaba, annual report, 2011)

Figure 5 Coral mortality percentage in Jordan’s coast of Aqaba Gulf (a) and the size frequency distribution of branching corals (b) observed at the site of Clinker Port (KP). n denote the counted number of branching coral colonies

The AMPA includes the restricted Coral Reef Reserve, extending approximately 7 km along Jordan’s coastline. Its establishment has depended upon research efforts on coral reefs and marine biology, policies for implementation and regulations designed to protect the coral reefs (i.e. managed from an ecological point of view) as a tourist attraction. Authorities have identified priority management and science issues in the Gulf of Aqaba. They address the clear need to implement a new paradigm for the interactions between managers, scientists and the public regarding AMPA. Consequently, stakeholders were able to build a framework for longstanding working relationships between the coral reef management and research institutions. The scientific approach for implementation of the science and monitoring work was the responsibility of a unique marine research center in Jordan, the MSS. The goal is to provide resource managers with scientific knowledge on the basic physical, chemical, and biological processes in the Gulf of Aqaba as well as the impacts of urban development on these resources and processes. Therefore, managers at ASEZA were able to integrate the data on research and monitoring (R&M) into their resource management decision-making which enhances their strategies on conservation along the entire coastal line (Crosby, 1997).
Ongoing management is therefore essential in order to achieve the following four goals at all scales. The first is to promote sustainable economic production represented by the expansion of ports, industries and tourist resorts. The second is to conserve the natural marine biodiversity through R&M in Gulf of Aqaba. Third, is to provide basic information for existing and new projects. The final goal is to sustain cultural values that are intimately linked with the marine environment by preserving the heritage culture of Aqaba. Moreover, the key factor in the success of the AMPA conservation efforts is the real cooperation between the different stakeholders. It is crucial that the local community endorse the strategy of protecting the AMPA and its natural resources in the shape of legislations and rules aiming at protecting the fragile ecosystems the park hold in care for future generations. To this effect, the first step is to acquire the support of the local community. An extensive public awareness and educational programs have been adopted among local and business communities as well as governmental and non governmental authorities. This is still undergoing for all stakeholders in several forms such as holding workshops, symposia and conferences as well as participation in local and international exhibits. The AMPA engaged them also in all activities within the framework of outreach programs such as beach and underwater clean-up campaigns, dive centers and government agencies participation.
Management steps that have already been undertaken are helpful in protecting the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba but several other actions are still crucial. The reallocation of port units is most important to have them confined to one major site and at the same time allows for vertical expansion. Emphasis is important on the power of the EIA as a management tool, including the need to involve the public in the EIA preparation and to rely on local expertise. It will also be important to commit private investments through the EIA to compensate the public for the beach mandate. Nevertheless, there is still a need to make the full spectrum of data and information required to better understand and conserve AMPA biodiversity and ecosystem processes.
The monitoring program’s aims and objectives were discussed earlier on a local scale but now on a regional scale, the main objective will be to enable Jordan to take the lead in establishing and implementing a regional collaborative framework for sustainable management of the Gulf of Aqaba. The key tool in this wider context is to develop resource conservation measures to avoid irreversible loss of biodiversity or threats to the ecosystem’s functioning. Thus, the AMPA has strengthened the regional capability for information exchange with national decision-making regarding resource management in the Gulf of Aqaba. Consequently, it laid the groundwork for a long-standing working relationship with the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) by increasing the level of communication and cooperation, and by building the technical capacity of the Red Sea countries.
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