The color of coral (2):The challenges of the Red Sea Region [Archives:2005/830/Culture]

April 4 2005

By Irena Knehtl
For The Yemen Times

The red sea taoday

The Red Sea is a long and narrow body of water that provides a line of communication from the Far East to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.

The Red Sea is only moderately integrated into the regional level but it is much more deeply integrated into international level.

The geopolitical position of the Red Sea is of special importance bordering as it does the eastern coast of Africa and the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the vital route for the transportation of oil through Bab al-Mandab and the Suez Canal in the North.

Issues of free navigation, nuclear disarmament, environmental pollution remain of paramount concerns to the states of the region.

The Red Sea region is nevertheless relatively poorly explored.

Its marine riches from the mangrove swamps of the south, through the spectacular coral reefs of the center, to the sea-grass beds of the north.

The Red Sea marine, life, isolated in a long sleeve of water, developed away from its Indian Ocean beginnings.

Thus were created the unique life forms found in the Red Sea today and on Arabian soil, where, for example, four out of 10 insect species are endemic, that is, found nowhere else in the world.

The Indian Ocean still passes over the shallow threshold of the Bab al-Mandab to replenish the Red Sea, and flow the thousands of kilometers of coral cliffs, atolls, reefs and lagoons, which give the sea some of the most stunning underwater landscapes in the world.

In the southern Yemeni portion of the Red Sea, abundant plankton supports an immense chain of life.

Microscopic creatures support triggerfish, boat fish and great variety of gobies and prawns.

Where they meet the land, the nutrient-rich waters of the south have also created mangrove swamps – the domain of crabs, rock skippers and herons.

But by the time the water reaches the central Red Sea – drawn north by evaporation from the surface – the Indian Oceans flow is depleted of nutrients, marine life there is concentrated on deep coral walls.

These coral cliffs stretch north for a thousand miles to the Gulf of Aqaba, where sand washed down from coastal mountains provides ideal conditions for great meadows of sea grasses.

Within its boundaries there remain some of the richest coral – reef systems in the world.

The Yemeni Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, for example contain some of the most important coastal and marine environments and resources in the world. Almost no rivers flow into the Red Sea except for the Bardra in the Sudan. One of the characteristics of the Red Sea is its high salinity.

The flora of the Red Sea is mainly tropical, similar to the vegetation of the Indian Ocean and in particular to that of the East African Coast.

The most spectacular in color, shape and behavior among inhabitants of the coral reef are the tropical fish.

The observed color change likely gave the water its present name, the Red Sea.

Surrounding countries have all established strong links with the Red Sea weather for fishing, navigation and commerce – or as a source of sea – salt commerce.

In the recent years these have been added in an increase in leisure activities, and tourism and industrial projects such as desalinated fresh water.

The central portion of the Red Sea is unique in that the medium rift has created rich deposits of heavy metals. Zinc 3.4%, copper 1.3%, lead 0.1 %, silver 54%, and gold 0.5% parts per million. Found beneath pools that have formed in depressions two kilometers deep, these muds are rich in zinc and copper, smaller amounts of other metals, including gold, and the main target – silver. However, metal markets are highly volatile.

The Red Sea region faces a huge number of problems, particularly demographic imbalance, pollution, and environmental degradation.

These problems will only intensify as the coastal population increases in size.

It will be only though cooperation and dialogue on matters associated with the sea, and in particular, mutual and bilateral economic cooperation, that people will be able to overcome these problems.

This will be only possible if littoral states will overcome their weakness and consolidate their economic, political and strategic cooperation.

Such cooperation would not only foster peace and stability in the area but will also increase the prosperity and welfare of the people of the area.

Dialogue and solidarity remain the only valid means available for transforming the Red Sea into a zone of peace, cooperation, mutual economic cooperation and partnerships and increased investment opportunities.

Shaping the future

So far, no oil or gas is being extracted from the Red Sea apart from the Gulf of Suez whose fields are very important to Egypt. Off shore natural gas production around Arabia is also important.

In future it will become an even more valuable resource as it is increasingly utilized for industrial development in particularly petrochemicals.

A second potential source of offshore wealth lies in the metal bearing mud of the Red Sea.

A number of extremely deep depressions at depth of around 2,200 meters were located in the Red Sea.

Quantities are estimated to be 1.7 million tones of zinc, 400,000 tons of copper, 4,000 tons of silver as well as gold, lead, and iron.

Further, the sugar industry has considerable potential for expansion.

Neighboring countries are a potential natural market.

Application of water and electricity inputs will further enable farmers to rise production on existing fields.

Specialized agriculture production, including fruits and vegetables, oil seeds, spices, garden seeds, and flowers that could also be attractive to innovative investors.

Conditions also favor specialized livestock and poultry operation and fish farming. Food processing, for domestic use and export, also has enormous potential for agriculture.

The textile industry is capable of great expansion.

Hydroelectric power potential remains 98 percent under developed.

Live animals, hides and skins need to be upgraded.

Ethiopia's great reserves of man-power are best in the region.

There is, however need to restore and improve degraded land in the highlands, and improve storage facilities.

Transportation and logistics are another field in which the Red sea countries can gain great benefit from cooperation. Better highways would facilitate trade, rapid expansion of tourist services and specialized tourism.

Fishing is important around the Arabian Peninsula and most national development plans envisage contained expansion of commercial fishing.

This matter is of particular importance to Yemen where export trade is headed by fish products.

The desire to extend territorial waters has become more pressing in recent years.

On matters of the sea careful management, particularly, in respect of environment and pollution control will become urgent.

Development strategy for value creation

Sound financial management, creation and maintenance of favorable provisions for domestic and foreign investment, expansion of democracy and improvements in provisions for enforcing social justice are required for further development.

When communal bonds unite a group of people, great success is possible.

But such bonds can develop only when personal interests are subjugated to goals that carry in them the essential virtues of humanity.

The broader the basis for action, the greater the good that can be achieved.

A spirit of cooperation steadies the boat, but it helps to have a beautiful island to row towards.

For a community, power lies not in its numbers, but in the diverse skills and resources of its members.

Just as the stoutest walls are reinforced with many different materials, so the strongest groups allow differences to co-exists inside the whole.

The aim here should be to bring people of the region together, businesses and organizations of the region together, and providing added value to both people and businesses.

Here free zones can play a role in facilitation industrial development and the flow of trade between countries of the region.

Internal trading agreement should define the mechanism and framework of collaboration aiming for the regional countries to achieve best project results.

Below are some proposed regional development projects of mutual interest:

Infrastructural projects: Transportation, regional transportation network, roads, marine, and air transport resulting in expansion of market size of each country.

Roads, airports, electricity and energy, petroleum and industry focus on complementarily in the region, and industries that provide high added value to accelerate economic growth through an aggressive policy and that target international markets.

Construction materials: Cement plants, mining for construction material

Food and fishery processing: Cash crops for export, processing and canning of vegetables and fruits, development of fishery facilities, marketing infrastructure, upgrading of ports and airports, Spinning, textile, and ready-made garments.

Agriculture: Eco-farming, vegetable, flowers, cereals, oil crops, vegetables, fruits, aromatic oil, medical plants, and concentrates, animal products, forest and agro-forestry.

Bio-Technology: Desert farming, coastal protection, waters resource management, sugar crops.

Tourism: Recreational, religious, cultural and health tourism, diving, yachting tourism. Health farms, culture and heritage preservation project regional cultural heritage, integrated cultural heritage sites management.

Free Zones: In the selected areas, these should serve as basis for increased trade among member countries. Such zones will be attractive strategic areas for investment and provide direct access to the markets. Further free zones specializing in export oriented industries.

High Technology: Software industry, computer business, biomedical technology, environment, agriculture and biotechnology, regional information highway.

Human Resources Development: They are the key prerequisites to regional development and national growth.

To achieve regional development comprehensive human resource development strategies should be put forward based on education and professional development, investment in human capital.

Environment. The protection of environment is a challenge for all countries in the region. Waste water treatment, desalination technology, greening programs.

Also technologies such as stabilization ponds, wetlands, lagoon technology, renewable energy.


The Arabian Peninsula Seas contain two of the most important strategic waterways in the world, the Bab Al-Mandab and Strait of Hormuz.

Without them much of the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa and South West Asia would make little sense.

The fact that Somalia has a coast both on the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean gives it enormous strategic importance since it enables it to control navigation in the Red Sea as well as in the Indian Ocean. With three ports in the Indian Ocean and one in the Gulf of Aden, Somalia overlooks the Cape of Good Hope ocean route and practically controls the southern entrances of the Red Sea.

The main shipping lanes use the channel to the west of Perim Island.

It is estimated that approximately 18,000 ships pass thorugh the Bab Al-Mandab annually, or about 50 per day.

Approx ten percent of Western Europe oil supplies pass through Bab Al-Mandab, which is in the territorial waters of Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea.

Of these, Yemen is well placed to exercise direct control of the shipping lanes.

All of maritime trading nations that use the Suez Canal have an interest that Bab Al-Mandab remains open and safe for shipping and maintain safe and unimpeded movement of shipping.

Although the Sea is a major cause of rivalry and conflict by virtue of geographical configuration, physical resources, and global location, it could be also unifying factor.

The quest for regional security, war on terror, problems of environmental management, and a common desire to limit outside interference could form the basis for fruitful regional cooperation. Thus the sea which is a potential source of disunity is also a powerful argument for cooperation.

The Red Sea states may yet to recognize the value of unified political front on matters associated with the sea and mutual economic cooperation, while gaining space for formulation ideas for their own development.

It is the geo-strategic significance of the Red Sea as resource that the Red Sea countries themselves have yet to explore to the full as the sea will further gain in its importance.

After completion of the enlargement of the European Union, the natural space for growth present will be the Mediterranean region and the Arabian Peninsula.

The Red Sea region could, perhaps in one generation, become an interface between the enlarged Europe, Russia, the Indian Sub-continent, and the Indian Ocean countries.

Throughout the history the Yemeni port of Aden has been a port of commercial importance, as it served as a meeting point of ships coming form the Red Sea from India, from the Persian Gulf and from East Africa. Due to its location across from the Horn of Africa and at the entrance to the Red Sea, as a member of both the Red and the Indian Ocean States, at the hub of world and regional shipping routes, as bridge between ancient and modern and as creator of new relationships, Yemen has an important role to play.

There must be not a balance of power but a community of power, not organized rivalries but an organized peace.

Irena Knehtl is an economist and writer who has been researching economic cooperation among the Red sea countries for a number of years.