TUBBATAHA, PHILIPPINES CREDIT: gregory piper/coral reef image bank
The Red Sea’s reef is one of the longest continuous living reefs in the world, extending along 4,000 km of the Red Sea’s coastline (which is about the distance from New York to Los Angeles). These reefs provide food and a source of livelihood to a rapidly growing coastal population of over 28 million people, with billions of dollars of value generated annually from tourism and from fisheries that depend on the reef. The reef is a biodiversity hot spot and adaptation of its residents to each other and to the unusually hot and salty waters of the Red Sea has led to the development of unique molecules. The Red Sea’s reef contains hundreds of potential new therapeutic compounds waiting to be discovered.
While recent research has demonstrated that the northern Red Sea’s corals are likely to be among the “last reefs standing” amid the global loss of reefs due to climate change, they will only continue to survive and flourish if serious regional environmental stressors are addressed. Localized human-induced stressors, such as intense coastal development and over fishing, damage these unique corals and should be mitigated immediately. <strong>There is a strong and immediate need for highly coordinated conservation and research efforts along the entire Red Sea to maintain this unique ecosystem. This reef contributes substantially to local economies and creates a magnificent natural resource for the entire region.
The Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea could potentially be one of the planet’s largest marine refuges from climate change. Coral reefs around the globe are dying due to rising sea temperatures and scientists estimate that only 10% of them will persist by mid-century. But the Gulf of Aqaba's reef ecosystem is thriving despite rising sea temperatures because the corals there withstand water temperature anomalies that cause severe bleaching or mortality in most corals elsewhere. The Red Sea’s uniquely resilient corals may hold the biological key to the survival of the world’s remaining reefs. Their resilience presents scientists with the chance to understand the biological keys to coral survival as the planet’s oceans warms.