Since last year’s political uprising, and consequent deterioration of law enforcement, poachers supplying restaurants with illicit shark fins have driven the Red Sea shark population down by as much as 80 percent, reports Egypt Independent. In 2006, laws prohibiting trading in sharks were passed, with severe penalties attached. However, in the post-revolution chaos, the Egyptian army no longer patrols the coast to stop illegal fishing. (If you’re planning to travel to Egypt these days, you’ll need to read our 5 tips for traveling safely in post-revolution Egypt.)
The scenario without the top-feeder sharks is a downward spiral of ecological destruction. Much larger numbers of fish such as rays and skates, themselves heavy feeders, would threaten shellfish populations. Without shellfish (those natural water filters), the quality of the Red Sea water would deteriorate, harming the already-threatened coral reefs.
Egypt’s conservationist movement, Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), also reckons with the loss of revenues from tourism. Marine biologist Mahmoud Hanafy adds,“We’ve estimated that each medium-to-large size shark brings in approximately US$200,000 each year through tourism.” Yet Egypt still has to develop guidelines for safe eco-tourism, as Tafline’s post on Red Sea dolphins reports here. Divers report seeing no sharks, according to Amri Ali, HEPCA’s managing director.
With no backup from the police, HEPCA’s campaigns encouraging restaurants to take shark-based foods off their menus are no longer successful. A poacher might sell a shark, or just a pair of fins, to a restaurant for US$150-200 at black market prices.
Ali says, “The [army] coast guards used to fend off poachers which really helped. But with them gone, it’s impossible for us or other NGOs to monitor 160km of coast.”
To study their behavioral and migratory patterns, HEPCA plans to attach tracking devices onto the remaining sharks. Shark fins, as individual as human fingerprints, may be identified and used to create a map of the population.
“Once these studies are done, we’ll hopefully be able to create a proper science for shark conservation in Egypt,” says Ali.
Hopefully, these measures, and poaching prevention, will be enforced when order is restored to Egypt.
More on the ecology of the Red Sea:
Photo of shark by APF, via Egypt Independent.