The marine biodiversity 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 types of mangrove trees, are among the major resources of the Red Sea.
According to studies conducted over the past 27 years, it has been confirmed that the depth of the Eritrean Sea is a haven to 11 types of seagrass, five types of marine turtles, as well as over 72 different marine bird species. Furthermore, 17 different types of sea cucumber, with high economic significance, are found in the Red Sea.
The Northern Red Sea Region possesses a port and nine bays as well as more than 300 islands in its 795.5 kilometers long coastline. The Dahlak Archipelago and Hawakil islands are internationally known for their marine resources.
The coastline north from the port city of Massawa is more or less straight, but to the south, where most of the seaside villages and towns are located, is full of gulfs. The longest gulf of Zula, located in this region, stretches 48 kilometers and is 8 to 15 kilometers wide. Inhabitants of this area depend on herding, fishing, and trade.
Most of the corals around the Dahlak archipelago are very attractive and are located near the seashores and the islands, while the corals get scarce when you get close to the Hawakil Islands. The high quality and most diverse coral reefs are scattered over a distance of 15 kilometers 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 forests are the haven for coastal bio-diversity and are found 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 on the northern part of the sea, such as Marsa Deresa and Marsa Mubarek.
Planting mangrove trees along the coasts of arid countries would contribute significantly to food security and help eradicate poverty and combat environmental degradation according to Dr. Gordon H. Sato. Eritrea has planted hundreds of thousands of mangrove forests along the coast for this purposes under different projects.
On top of their economic significance, the mangrove trees are mostly known for their ecological importance. Mangrove trees serve as a refuge for different sea creatures that lay their eggs there, while their falling leaves add to the mineral content of the sea. Besides, a swarm of migrating birds from North to the south and vice versa uses these mangrove jungles as resting places.
The economic significance of these trees is huge. These trees could be used for building houses and boats, their leaves could be used as animal feed and their seasonal flowers are conducive for lowland bee farming and many more.
From a broader perspective, mangrove trees, with their evergreen leaves have great significance in protecting marine pollution and fighting global climate change on a great scale. The strong roots and trunks, as well as the thick leaves, protect coastal erosion.
Moreover, considering that Eritrea spends millions of dollars on lumber imports and consumes millions of tons of fuelwood annually, mangrove farms could bring great economic benefits both to the communities that own them and the country as a whole.
Based on research conducted so far, there are 60 types of seagrass in the whole world, and 12 of these are found in the marine territory of Eritrea. Seagrasses mostly grow in soft substrate surfaces such as sand, mud, low tide and mineral-rich areas with almost nonexistent erosion.
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On the contrary, seaweeds grow in harder parts and 200 types of these species are found in the Eritrean Sea. Generally, the amount and diversity of seagrass increase as you sail from the Northern part of the sea to the South. 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 seagrass.
A very big range of seagrass in the Northern Red Sea Region is found around the coast of Gelalo, Diluh, Harena, Marsa Fatuma, Aluli, Bededa, islands of Aba’aguba, Ajuz, Beka’e, and Hawakil.
Seaweeds are commonly used as food in many Asian countries. The abundance of seaweeds in the Red Sea provided sanctuary for various types of fish and snails. It can also be utilized using technology to produce medicine, paper, acid, cosmetics as well as various other chemicals for laboratory use. In fact with the growing importance of seaweeds, many fishermen around the world have shifted from fishing to harvesting seaweeds.
Mollusks and Sea Shells are also marine species that are found abundantly in the Eritrean Red Sea coast. In addition to being used as food, these natural marine resources, could be exported and generate income. The most expensive seafood in the world is found from mollusks such as shrimp, sepia, squid and sea cucumber.
Mollusks could also be used as raw materials for various products. The gastropods were used in the past for production of buttons and other household utensils. The Eri-pearl button factory, located in Grar, Massawa, is a witness to the button production from the top shells. Some seashells are used for the production of perfumery.
The aesthetic beauty of some mollusks is breathtaking and people use them for decoration. Mollusks have also made a great contribution to the health sector. The chemicals found in various mollusks are used in the production of medicine.
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The sea cucumber is an attractive seafood because it has a very low content of cholesterol, but a high amount of protein. According to research, the sea cucumber in Eritrea, especially that found in the island of Yemarku, one of the islands of the Dahlak archipelago, began to be highly utilized starting from the 1960s.
Until 2000, the local fishermen from the islands and some seaside villages, divided with only handmade masks to extract cucumber on a small scale. Since 2000, however, the local fishermen upgraded their equipment and have been collecting sea cucumber on a bigger scale.
Sea cucumbers have a lot of economic benefits. Most people who live in the coastal areas of the world lead their livelihood by selling dried cucumbers. In countries of the Far East, particularly China and Hong Kong, sea cucumbers are extensively used as food, traditional medicine as well as oil and cosmetics.
Compared to other types of marine life the sea cucumber has a very limited mobility, which makes it vulnerable to be caught. Taking this into consideration, an organized marine resource management is required to ensure the sustainability of the sea cucumbers.