The Northern Red Sea Region has a port, nine bays and more than 300 islands in its 795.5- kilometer long coastline. The Dahlak Archipelago and Hawakil islands are internationally renowned for their marine resources.
The coastline, north from the port city of Massawa, is more or less straight whereas that part to the south, where most of the seaside villages and towns are, is full of gulfs. The longest gulf, Zula, stretches 48 kilometers and is 8 to 15 kilometers wide. Inhabitants of this area depend on herding, fishing and trade for their living.
The marine bio-diversity in the Red Sea spans from the unicellular phytoplankton seedlings to the enormous wales. Over 1000 different species of fish and 250 types of corals are found in the Red Sea. Besides, invertebrates, mollusks and gastropods as well as marine plants, such as the three different types of mangrove trees, are among the major resources of the Red Sea. According to studies that have been done over the past 25 years after Eritrea’s independence, it has been confirmed that the depth of the Eritrean Sea is also a haven to 11 types of sea grass, five types of marine turtles as well as over 72 different marine bird species. Furthermore, 17 types of sea cucumber that have high economic significance are found in the Red Sea.
- Corals and Fish
Most of the corals around the Dahlak archipelago are very attractive and are located near the seashores and the islands, but they get scarce as you get close to the Hawakil Islands. The high quality and most diverse coral reefs are scattered over an area of 15 kilometers stretching from the Desie Island to the Madot Island.
Indeed, the Northern Red Sea Region, through its unlimited resources and priceless quality of fish and corals, is and will be playing a significant role in the socio-economic growth of the Eritrean population.
- Mangrove Forest
Mangrove forests are the haven for coastal bio-diversity and are scattered in tremendous amount around the islands of Dahlak, particularly Harat, Musrie, Dise, Nora, the Buri peninsula, the islands of Hawakil and its environs, including Harena, Marsa Fatuma, and Dergema, as well as the northern part of the sea, such as Marsa Deresa and Marsa Mubarek.
On top of their economic significance, the mangrove trees are mostly known for their ecological importance. Mangrove trees serve as a refuge by sea creatures for laying eggs, while their falling leaves adds up to the mineral content of the sea. Besides, a swarm of migrating birds from north to south and vice versa use these mangrove jungles as resting points.
The economic significance of these trees is huge. They could be used for building houses and boats, and their leaves could be used for medication and animal feed. They also create an eco-system that is important for tourism, and their seasonal flowers are suitable for bees.
From a broader perspective, mangrove trees, with their evergreen leaves, have great significance in protecting marine pollution and fighting global climate change. Furthermore, their strong roots and trunks, as well as the thick leaves have great input in protecting coastal erosion.
- Sea Grass and Sea Weeds
Based on research conducted so far, there are 60 different types of sea grass in the whole world, 12 of which are found in the marine territory of Eritrea. Sea grasses mostly grow in soft substrate surfaces, such as sand, mud, low tide and mineral rich areas with almost nonexistent erosion. On the contrary, sea weeds grow in harder parts and 200 types of these species are found in the Eritrean Sea. Generally, the amount and diversity of sea grass as you sail from the Northern part of the sea to the South increase. However, the islands of Dihil, Nora, the coastal areas of marsa Ibrahim, marsa gulbub and Berite, which are located in the northern part of the sea, have vast coverage of sea grass. A very big range of sea grass in the Northern Red Sea Region is located around the coast of Gelalo, Diluh, Harena, Marsa Fatuma, Aluli, Bededa, islands of Aba’aguba, Ajuz, Beka’e, and Hawakil.
Sea weeds are commonly used as food in many countries of Asia. The abundance of sea weeds in the Red Sea has also created sanctuary for various types of fish, snail nail, which can be utilized, using technology, for the production of medicine, paper, acid, methane gas, cosmetics as well as various other chemicals for laboratory use. With the growing importance of sea weeds, many fishermen from around the world have shifted from fishing to producing sea weeds.
- Mollusks and Sea Shells
These natural marine resources, on top of their use as food, can be exported and the income they can generate is enormous. The most expensive sea food in the world is found from mollusks, such as shrimp, sepia, squid and sea cucumber.
Mollusks could be used as raw materials for various products. During the Italian colonial period gastropods were used in the production of buttons and other household utensils. The Eri-pearl button factory, located in Grar, Massawa, is a witness to the button production using shells. Some sea shells are also used for the production of perfumery.
Due to their aesthetic beauty, some mollusks are used for decorations. It is also known that mollusks have made great contributions in the health sector. The chemicals found in various mollusks are used in the production of medicine.
Sea cucumber has very low content of cholesterol but high amount of protein. According to research, the sea cucumber in Eritrea, especially that found at the island of Yemarku, one of the islands of the Dahlak archipelago, has been harvested since the 1960s. Until 2000, the local fishermen from the islands and some seaside villages practiced free diving, with only handmade masks, to extract cucumbers at a small scale. Since the year 2000, however, the local fishermen upgraded their equipment and have been harvesting sea cucumber in a much bigger scale.
Sea cucumbers have a lot of economic benefits. Most people who live in coastal areas generate income and lead their livelihood by selling dried cucumbers. In countries of the Far East, particularly in China and Hong Kong, sea cucumbers are extensively used as food, traditional medicine as well as oil and cosmetics.
Compared to other types of fish, sea cucumber has a very limited movement, which makes it vulnerable. Taking this into consideration, organized administration is demanded to ensure sustainable and continuous use. Gastropods, such as oysters, which have the capacity to produce pearls within their body, are also abundant in the Red Sea.
Northern Red Sea Region magazine 2017