Coral reefs in the Red Sea may save reefs around the world – here's how you can help

Climate change, overfishing, development, and pollution are negatively impacting coral reefs across the globe. Scientists in the Middle East have made a surprising discovery that could help.

Red Sea coral reefs provide clues for reef survival
Scuba diver explores a Red Sea coral reef. Photo by: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba – the northern tip of the Red Sea, bordered by Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia – continue to survive in spite of climate change and increasing water temperatures. And they are now being considered, as Dr Fuad Al-Horani, a professor of coral biology and ecology at the University of Jordan, puts it, “to play the role of the coral reservoir of the world.”

According to Dr Al-Horani, there are a number of factors that have contributed to the strength and survival of the reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba including the protected position as a semi-enclosed basin, the depth of the gulf, the natural fluctuation of temperatures between cold winters and hot summers, and the low annual rainfall and lack of rivers emptying into the gulf (which means a lack of fresh water that would otherwise contribute to decreased salinity that can cause coral bleaching).

“The corals in the Gulf of Aqaba are highly diverse and healthy,” Dr Al-Horani says. As such, they could be propagated and then sent to other regions of the world where reefs are dying.

Scientists encouraged by Red Sea coral reef findings
A scuba diver checks coral reefs in the Red Sea off the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat on June 12, 2017.Global warming has in recent years caused colourful coral reefs to bleach and die around the world -- but not in the Gulf of Eilat, or Aqaba, part of the northern Red Sea. Photo by: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

While certainly creative and inspiring, this solution, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the larger problem: curbing the root causes of climate change and coral destruction that are killing off reefs.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a policymaker or scientist to take action. Here are some simple ways you can protect Red Sea reefs through your own bookings and behaviours:

1. Book with eco-conscious tour operators and hotels

Do your research before you travel. Support local businesses that are actively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint and protect the natural and cultural resources of the region. For example, Movenpick Resort & Residences Aqaba is continuously working on improving its energy efficiency and waste management plans. They are also involved in sea cleanups and community recycling programs. Conscientious tour operators like Engaging Cultures Travel and Experience Jordan can design custom itineraries with suggestions on how to reduce your footprint and apply “Leave No Trace” principles. And for all bookings made in July, in2Jordan will contribute to a local tree-planting project.

2. Use reef-safe sunscreen

Studies have shown that chemicals found in popular sunscreens are damaging coral reefs. Making the switch to a reef-safe sunscreen such as certified organic, chemical-free Raw Elements is a simple change that can make a big difference in protecting our reefs, marine life, and our own skin from harsh chemicals.

3. Join a beach or sea clean up

Aqabawi and Sea Guard Aqaba regularly organise Red Sea reef clean-ups. Joining them not only gives you a chance to play a part in protecting the reef while you’re in Jordan but supporting these locally-owned small businesses helps them continue their efforts beyond your visit.

4. Lead by example

Offset your carbon emissions, refuse single-use plastics, carry your own reusable water bottle, bag, and utensils, and request that your tour operator do the same. Jordan has a massive plastic problem and rubbish often ends up in the Red Sea. As travellers, we can choose to improve the situation or exacerbate it. These choices may seem small in the face of such huge environmental issues, but making eco-friendly choices can positively influence others around you—fellow travellers, locals, and strangers alike.

5. Spread the word

Share the beauty of the unique Red Sea reefs and inspire others to respect and protect reefs in Jordan and around the world.