Egypt’s Red Sea Governor Mahmoud Assem has established a safe-zone designed to protect the vulnerable Indo-pacific dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). The move, which bans any kind of vessel from entering the Fanous Reef, has been lauded by conservation groups such as the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency (HEPCA) – one of the few organizations committed to protecting the region’s marine life. HEPCA recognizes Egypt’s first dolphin sanctuary as a ” milestone achievement” and published a handy guide for divers and swimmers still permitted in the safe zone that describes best practices to maintain in the presence of dolphins.
Unbridled development and poor environmental oversight have led to a serious degradation of the local ecosystem, and tourists eager to see dolphins in their natural environment inevitably put undue stress on them.
Tourism accounts for a large portion of Egypt’s gross domestic product, but diving and other activities are only sustainable in the long term if the local ecosystem is kept intact.
By cordoning off an area at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, where dolphins routinely rest and and socialize, the Red Sea governorate is sending a very clear message that it is committed to caring for its marine life.
Although boats are not permitted to enter the safe zone, divers and swimmers still can, so HEPCA has provided the following behavioral tips that will ensure harmony between human visitors and custacean residents.
- Feeding dolphins is strictly forbidden (it is detrimental to their health and behavior)
- Do not throw any objects in the water
- Reduce noises such as shouting or whistling (dolphins rely almost completely on sense of hearing)
- Swim gently and quietly avoiding movement with arms and splashes
- Swim to intercept the dolphin route and then freeze; let the animals approach and decide if and how to interact
- Avoid noises such as shouting, whistling, using rattles and horns
- Do not chase the dolphins (it could only increase their speed)
- If snorkeler, do not free dive when dolphins dive
- If diver, do not follow the dolphins when they surface
- Touching the dolphins is strictly forbidden (and could lead to skin infections for both)
- Always use fins, masks and snorkels
Mostly thanks to HEPCA’s concerted efforts and those of the local community, Hurghada has taken huge strides when it comes to wildlife conservation. Just last year four dolphins imported from the infamous Cove were discovered in a tiny, filthy private swimming pool. Efforts to learn more about the dolphins resulted in personal attacks on Animal Planet’s Richard Barry – the man who first blew the whistle on the inhumane treatment of “blood dolphins” in Taijii.
:: Bikya Masr
images via HEPCA
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