Recently I accompanied an acquaintance of mine to her aunt’s, who was feeling a bit under the weather. Upon arrival, we were met with the loud noise of children playing in the courtyard and a bunch of youngsters, all apparently visiting the ailing woman, sitting and chatting in the verandah around the traditional coffee ceremony. One of the guests somehow came up with a conversation about the Red Sea. I was surprised to know that his companions barely had the faintest idea of what our Red Sea or its underwater paradise and coastal resources had to offer.
In a journalistic impulse, I began describing of the Red Sea’s potentials for tourism, both domestic and international, as well as its vast biodiversity. Basically, that conversation I had with those youngsters prompted me to write this article; so goes out to all those who are in the dark about the rare beauties of the Red Sea.
With a 1,215-kilometer coastline, along with hundreds of kilometers of coast around its more than 350 islands, Eritrea is the proud owner of over 11% of the total area of the Red Sea.
Every part of the Eritrean Red Sea speaks of yet unexploited potential, ranging from the numerous islands offering outstanding diving spots and mesmerizing white sandy beaches to the rich biodiversity within the sea. Mangroves, around 10 types of sea grass and seaweed, salt bushes also make part of Eritrean marine resources.
The Red Sea is also a global hotspot for marine biology and home to rare fish species. In fact, almost 20 per cent of the fish species found here are not found anywhere else in the world. Among the most common types of fish Jellyfish, Barracuda, Black Bass, Groupers, Manta Ray, Kingfish, Parrot Fish, Snappers, Coral Fish, Puffer Fish can be mentioned. Over a thousand types of fish and 220 types of corals are reportedly found around the Dahlak Archipelago only.
One of the significant Eritrean marine resources is the abundance of coral reefs. Spectacular coral reefs, which spread for 20-30meters, are found in every coastline and all off shore islands and are all in the most of pristine conditions. On top of being a habitat to various types of fish, coral reefs have also high demands for ornamentation purposes.
Still in the ecosystem, the Eritrean coastline is home to the endangered dugong (sea cow), various species of birds, nesting turtles, as well as crabs and lobsters. Whales and dolphins, which are frequently seen around the Dahlak Islands, also make part of the Eritrean marine fauna.
The Red Sea pristine waters also offer ample opportunities for underwater explorations through diving and snorkeling. On top of the colorful underwater life, divers can also explore old Italian shipwrecks, which pose as archaeological evidences of one of early man’s first encounters with the sea.
Apart from these tourist attraction features of the Red Sea, researchers have assessed that the Red Sea is also rich in oil and natural gas while there is very high potential for harnessing geothermal energy. It also yields several minerals like copper, nickel, cobalt, magnesium, titanium, aluminum, potassium, lead, etc… the list goes on.
At the historical level, the Red Sea was an important trade route throughout human history, linking the trade goods of India and the Far East with the markets of Egypt and Europe, through its ports at Adulis and Zula.
The Red Sea has 355 off shore islands, only ten of which are inhabited while 137 others have no given names. Temperature in the islands reaches from 35-45 °C between the months of May and September, while from November to February scores of 175 – 250mm of rainfall can be registered.
Ancient Turkish and Islamic ruins, the many hundred years old Arab inscriptions that date 500 years back to the Turkish colonization, the monumental cisterns, a necropolis, and the 360 wells are important living historical footprints that make the Dahlak Islands world class tourism attraction sites.
Dahlak Kebir, which is the largest of all the Dahlak islands, is far bigger in size than Andorra, Monaco, Malta, Seychelles, San Marino, and yet not explored to the maximum nor its attractions exploited.
It is a historical place because it has tomb stones where Arab calligraphic writings have been artistically engraved in 1344 (Hegira); as well as 365 wells dug at hard coral rocks which were intended to be used one well for one day and each well would supply the inhabitants water for a year long. The island also maintains links with the ancient port of Adulis.
Highly worth mentioning is the remarkable role the Red Sea played during the Eritrean Struggle for Liberation. The transportation of military logistics and offensives from small motor boats against big warships was witnessed in the Red Sea, as the Eritrean freedom fighters made their determined advances against the Ethiopian regimes. Operation Fenkil would suffice to portray the historical importance of the Red Sea.
After all is said, it’s true that its strategic position, pristine coastlines, rich biodiversity, historical and archaeological traces among others definitely make the Red Sea one of the world’s most important water bodies, but it’s also true that the world has yet to know about the untouched wealth that lies beneath the clear blue waters of the Eritrean Red Sea.
And when it does, the role it would have on the tourism sector in particular and the economy of the country in general is simply enormous and worth of pride.