New Artificial Reefs "Grow" From Mideast Peace Deal

Mati Milstein in Tel Aviv, Israel
for National Geographic News
September 25, 2007

In a rare example of Middle East cooperation, Israelis and Jordanians have joined together to create a string of artificial coral reefs in the Red Sea.

The international effort is meant to attract divers and snorkelers to artificial reefs to allow the area's damaged natural reefs to heal.

A high diversity of corals thrive in the Gulf of Aqaba, which lies at the northern end of the Red Sea and is bordered by both Israel and Jordan as well as Egypt and Saudia Arabia farther south. (See a map of the gulf.)

These reefs draw tourists from around the world to the neighboring resort cities of Elat, Israel, and Al 'Aqabah, Jordan. (See a fish's-eye view of the Red Sea.)

The tourism dollars are a boon to the region's economy, but an onslaught of snorkelers and divers has taken a damaging toll. Many of the reefs are literally dying, experts say.

Reefs on Jordan's coast, though still at risk, have so far suffered less from human pressures than those on the more heavily visited Israeli and Egyptian coast. (See related news: "Diverting Red Sea to Save Dead Sea Could Create Environmental Crisis" [December 14, 2006].)

"There is increasing construction, industrial development, and tourism around the gulf. Elat and [Al ']Aqabah are fast-growing cities and pressure on the reefs is growing," said Fuad Al Horani of the Marine Science Station (MSS) in Al 'Aqabah.

MSS and a team from the Elat campus of Ben-Gurion University (BGU) are spearheading the reef construction.

A 1994 peace deal between Israel and Jordan mandated that the two countries work together on combating marine pollution, natural resources issues, and coastal reef protection in the gulf.

Researchers are also gathering critical data on these complex ecosystems, including coral survival rates and patterns as well as the effects of human behavior on reefs.

Reviving the Reef

Using cranes and large parachutes, the team has already sunk huge concrete structures, each weighing 4.2 tons, into water 19 to 22 feet (6 to 7 meters) deep. Before installation, corals were nursed in special tubes designed to fit in holes drilled into the artificial reef.

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