Coral reefs of the Red Sea - challenges and potential solutions
The Red Sea is a unique body of water, hosting some of the most productive and diverse coral reefs. Human populations along coasts of the Red Sea were initially sparse due to the hot and arid climate surrounding it, but this is changing with improved desalination techniques, accessible energy, and increased economic interest in coastal areas. In addition to increasing pressure on reefs from coastal development, global drivers, primarily ocean acidification and seawater warming, are threatening coral reefs of the region. While reefs in southern sections of the Red Sea live near or above their maximum temperature tolerance and have experienced bleaching events in the recent past, coral reefs in northern sections are considered a coral reef refugia from global warming and acidification, at least for the coming decades. Such differential sensitivities along the latitudinal gradient of the Red Sea require differential solutions and management. In an effort to identify the appropriate solutions to conserve and maintain resilience of these reefs along a latitudinal gradient, we used a SWOT analysis (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) to frame the present situation and to propose policy solutions as useful planning procedures. We highlight the need for immediate action to secure the northern sections of the Red Sea as a coral reef climate change refuge by management and removal of local stressors. There is a need to strengthen the scientific knowledge base for proper management and to encourage regional collaboration on environmental issues. Based on scientific data, solutions such as marine protected areas, fishing regulation, and reef restoration approaches were ranked for five distinct latitudinal sections in the Red Sea and levels of interventions are recommended.