Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate is a central natural area launched as a protectorate around 2006 AD. It plays a vital role in conserving natural resources, including scientific, aesthetic and biological. The site is also rich with many mangrove trees, which are set along the coast and are considered the main shelter for migratory birds. The ecosystem of the protected area comprises seagrass, coral reefs and more. Moreover, it has a privileged location since it overlooks the Strait of Gubal and the Suez Canal. There are also various sea creatures, including fish, crustaceans, turtles and dolphins. This Protectorate attracts many visitors who like the adventure of diving because it is one of the famous spots for diving in Egypt.
Characteristics of Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate
The Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate includes a complex network of islands, coral reefs, shallow bays and lagoons, seagrass beds and open waters. The Northern Red Sea Islands are located in the northern part of the Red Sea, adjacent to the coastal areas of El Gouna and Hurghada. The site is vital for a year-round resident population of at least 200 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncus. A smaller group of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, Sousa plumbea, is regularly encountered in the coastal waters and around the nearshore reefs. The Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins feed in the open waters among islands and reefs and rest, mate, socialise and nurse their calves in proximity to several reefs in the Protectorate. In particular, it feeds in Shaab El Fanous, Shaab El Erg, Shaab Abu Nugar and around Gubal island. The dolphins are increasingly subjected to intense swimming with the-dolphin tourist activities that are considered detrimental to the conservation of these animals.
The Northern Red Sea Islands Protectorate is located at the eastern end of the northern Red Sea near the opening of the Gulf of Suez. Unlike most of the Egyptian coastline, which is relatively straight with few offshore reefs. The Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate includes a unique and complex system of islands. It has coral reefs with ecosystems such as sea grass beds, mangrove forests, shallow bays and lagoons, fringing reefs, coral patches, and some open waters.
Declaration of Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate
Due to the high diversity of habitats, 1.991 km2 of the area was declared a Natural Reserve in 2006 (Natural Protectorate of type “Developing resources protected area”. Several human settlements are present
along the coastline of the Protectorate, including the cities of El Gouna (27.39° N, 33.68° E) and Hurghada (27.22° N, 33.84° E). A tourism boom, which began in the 1980s, resulted in extensive coastal property development, contributing to substantial damage to the coral reefs. In recent years, in-water interactions with wild dolphins have become a popular tourist attraction offered by various organisations in the area.
Species or Population Vulnerability
The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin Sousa plumbea is found in shallow coastal waters from the northern Red Sea to South Africa and the tip of India. The abundance of the species in the Red Sea is presently unknown. However, Sousa plumbea occurs throughout the region in small groups in shallow waters, excluding the Gulf of Aqaba. The species is regularly observed in the IMMA, in particular along the coast and coastal reefs in small groups of a maximum of three individuals (Angela Ziltener unpublished data). These shallow, sheltered habitats of the Northern Red Sea Islands host a small group of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Distribution and Abundance
Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins use the area year-round. Ongoing research shows a total number of 318 individuals in the area. Studies on site fidelity and occurrence at these, and neighbouring sites, are in progress. The Northern Red Sea Islands area is an essential reproductive site for Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Mating, newborns, and calves have been regularly observed year-round, with a peak in spring and summer. Over the years, several females were observed with calves. Pregnant females and mothers with newborns are regularly observed during underwater observations, although births have never been witnessed. Although there is no precise information on the abundance of S. plumbea in the area, dedicated observations have been carried out since 2009 by the Dolphin.
Watch Research Alliance project suggests that the number of dolphins in the area is constantly based on encounter rates, particularly if compared to other places along the Egyptian Red Sea coast, where dedicated surveys have been carried out.
Repeated sightings of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins are reported in particular around El Gouna, including El Gouna harbour (i.e. Abydos Marina) and Shaab el Dir reef located just off El Gouna.
The study suggests that dolphins use the Northern Islands area to rest (60%), socialise (27%), travel (10%), and forage (3%), underlying the importance of the Red Sea Northern Islands Protectorate for the population. After socialising and foraging activities in the early morning, resting exercise was most prominent in the afternoon, with a peak from 09:00 to 12:00, followed by an increase in socialising, travelling and foraging in the late afternoon. Resting and socialising occur more on reefs, while foraging and travelling were more frequent in open waters among reefs and islands. The low foraging rate (3%) suggests that foraging mainly occurs at night. This activity budget is in striking contrast to other previously described diurnal activity budgets of bottlenose dolphins, in which travelling or foraging were the most frequently reported activities and resting the least frequent. Furthermore, the structured diurnal activity pattern seems comparable to that of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) in the Southern Egyptian Red Sea and elsewhere.
Moreover, the study also revealed that some offshore reefs are vital for resting, including Erg Kebir, Shaab El Bayout, Gotta Bayout, Shaab El Dir, Gotta El Dir, and Umm Usk. In the latter, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were observed swimming with a dugong.