|Date||29 Nov 2011|
Sha’ab Samadai is a horseshoe-shaped reef with a shallow and sheltered inner lagoon regularly visited by spinner dolphins and is located a few nautical miles offshore Marsa Alam, a booming resort in the southern Egyptian Red Sea. In the early 2000s, it has become one of the most popular dolphin watching and swimming-with destination and, due to a complete lack of regulations, an example of ill-considered exploitation of a natural resource. Amidst the call for more sustainable practices raised by stakeholders and operators, a management plan based on the precautionary principle aiming at ensuring protection to the dolphins while allowing tourist fruition was implemented. Seven years after the institution of this special protected area, a comprehensive and in-depth assessment is much needed. From a scientific point of view, data collected within this project will be compared and analysed together with available historical data in order to understand whether the management plan is actually succeeding in protecting this population. For this purpose, groups size and composition (gender and age classes) recorded in the field will be analysed; photo-identification will allow the description of the community’s site fidelity as well as the estimation of abundance and population trends.
All these elements would eventually contribute to the evaluation of the management scheme in place and, possibly, to its tuning with more case-specific and targeted components. Agreed that a protected area is not only a list of regulations to be adopted within certain boundaries but also an extraordinary educational opportunity, interpretation, awareness and proper communication on the value of the site have unfortunately been underdeveloped so far.
The project aims at providing hands-on training to students and professionals to enhance their skills in cetacean research, equipping guides with new materials and knowledge to enable them to give more aware briefings to the hundreds guests daily visiting the area, producing informative materials to be displayed and handed to visitors. Workshops organized regularly will strengthen the bond with the community that has already demonstrated its unity and care for the national resources a few years ago and that today is required to keep on contributing to Samadai conservation. With many other sites whose long-term conservation is threatened by tourism impacts, a successful model showing that sustainable practices are actually doable would help inspire other initiatives and eventually benefit conservation at regional level.
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