Egypt’s Red Sea Sharks Face Extinction

image-red-sea-sharkThe Arab Spring in Egypt has been a failure for sharks.

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:

:: Egypt Independent

Photo of shark by APF, via Egypt Independent.

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  15. Bari Gowan says:

    THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXTRACT – Taken from an email I sent out to all members of my dive network, having just returned from a trip to St Johns last December:
    Apart from the odd patrolling trevally and a few small-ish tuna and big-eye, there’s no ‘game’ fish any more. At all.
    Sharks? Mantas? Forget it!!
    I spoke with our boat captain (he remembered me from the MV Miss Nouran days, can you believe it!?), and he said that year after year the Yemenis have been caught many times with boatfulls of illegal catch – shark-fins and all. It’s been going on steadily for as long as he’s been at sea.
    HEPCA? The Egyptian CDWS?
    Nothing’s been achieved.
    Since last year’s ‘shark attacks’ and the deaths caused (up around Sharm), there’s been ‘revenge’ shark shootings, trawling and lining, and more tacit allowance of illegal fishing than ever.
    Certain ‘high’ officials have been regularly taking fat wads of ‘cash in the back pocket’. And no one bothers anyone.
    The supposedly ‘Simply The Best’ itinerary – Brothers, Daedalus, Elphinstone has become a ‘no sightings’ trip, every time according to the guides I ‘interrogated’. You have to ‘push’ for real info, as everyone seems to be party to a big ‘cover up’ – no one wants to scare off the divers from coming.
    And, strangely the diving ‘market’ has changed to work in their favour.
    Our boat was composed mainly of Americans (can you believe this, after all these years – they finally arrive in numbers!?), Canadians, Poles, and a smattering of French, Swiss and Brits.
    None of the ‘usual suspects’ from way back. No experienced Dutch, Brits or Germans (okay – no Austrians either!).
    And hardly anyone with any real diving experience! Mostly all in their first 10 – 150 dives, and – because none of them knew what to expect! – they accept it all as perfectly normal for the Red Sea.
    If you try to tell them what you expected, they listen wistfully, and switch off.
    It’s become – apart from the depths achieved and the strong currents to contend with – pretty much a ‘namby pamby’ holiday divers trip.
    I don’t know about you, but this fact makes me feel terribly sad.

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