The rapid developments in the economic activities and increasing the population in Aqaba place increasing pressure on the rich, but limited, coastal resources of the Jordanian portion of the Gulf of Aqaba. This has led the government of Jordan, through the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, to undertake the management of the Aqaba Marine Park as a matter of urgency.
Park Objectives :
The protected area of the Aqaba Marine Park was created to “conserve and manage the natural near-shore marine environment of the Aqaba south coast region with its rich biodiversity, while allowing for certain touristic uses at sustainable levels, for the benefit and enjoyment of the present and future generations of Jordanians and the global community.”
The Aqaba Marine Park is located south of the city of Aqaba. The park is about 7 km in length, stretching from the Passenger Terminal in the North to the Police Officers’ Club in the South. The park’s terrestrial boundary lies 50 m East of the Mean High Water Mark and the marine boundary lies 350m West of the Mean High Water Mark.
Park Zonation :
- A Strict Reserve Zone :
The objective is to preserve a marine community in its natural state by eliminating or reducing as much as possible anthropogenic impacts on the area. These areas are to be used as benchmarks for non-manipulative and non-extractive scientific research to gauge human impacts on the marine ecosystem to promote sustainable management of the existing marine resources. All and any activities without a written permit from the Marine Park authority are prohibited, except through passage.
- Beach Recreation and Swimming Zone :
The objective is to allow for safe beach recreation. Permitted activities include swimming, snorkeling, wading, and diving provided that proper access points are demarcated. Prohibited activities in these areas include general boating (with the exception of dive boats which may moor on designated mooring buoys), jet skiing, water-skiing, fishing and anchoring.
- Diving and Snorkeling Zones :
The objective is to permit safe diving and snorkeling with the purpose of observing, studying or photographing marine life. Access to dive sites is restricted to demarcated shore entry points and to predetermined mooring points for boat access. Dive sites may be subject to periodic closure to give sites a chance to recover from diver impacts. Prohibited activities within this zone include jet-skiing, water skiing, fishing, anchoring, and boating in the vicinity of a ‘diver-down’ flag.
- Beach Zone :
The beach zone encompasses the terrestrial territory of the AMP and is demarcated by 40 cm high natural stone markers 50 m east of the MHW mark. All activities within this area are controlled by the park management and special permits have to be secured from the park management for any activities other than simple beach use by individuals.
Park staff consist of a park manager, park officers, rangers and maintenance staff. Park staff are trained in first aid, rescue skills, scuba diving, boating, and in the enforcement of park regulations. Park Officers have the legal authority to arrest violators of the park regulations. Staff duties include :
- To provide first aid and rescue to injured persons.
- To generate public awareness of park regulations to protect the natural environment.
- To patrol the park and to enforce park regulations.
- To maintain park facilities and ensure their proper use by visitors.
- To conduct field surveys and studies.
- To maintain park facilities and equipment.
- To ensure the cleanliness of the beaches and water.
- To issue citations for violations of park regulations and to file legal charges against perpetrators.
- The installation and maintenance of park boundary markers.
- The management of a public outreach and education campaign to generate awareness about the marine environment.
Park Fees and Sustainability :
One of the most prominent challenges faced by the park in its quest for sustainability and independence, is the need to become financially self-reliant.
The Aqaba Marine Park by-law No. 22 of 2001 gave the park the legal authority to charge entry fees and service fees against services provided by the park in a first step towards the park’s financial and administrative independence and sustainability. The park generates revenues through fees, fines, leases, donations and grants.
Environment and protection :
Marine Communities :
The Coral Reef
Extensive coral communities in the form of fringing reefs dominate the 7 km long Marine Park coast-line, from the Marine Science Station to the Public Security Officers’ Club. Over 127 species of hard coral have been noted. The distribution of the reefs is discontinuous due to embayment’s, which are the outlets of dried river beds which form drowned canyons seaward.
The typical reef structure within the park is composed of the reef flat (shallow coral plateau often exposed at low tides), which is often separated from the shore line by a shallow sandy lagoon. The back reef is the back step leading from the shallow lagoon to the reef flat, while the seaward edge of the reef is called the reef crest. The reef face is the steep drop-off from the reef crest on the seaward side. The fore-reef extends from the reef-face and slopes seaward
Within Jordanian waters 118 genera and 161 species of fish have been noted. A number of mollusks, echinoderms, algae, amphipods and fish are endemic to the Gulf of Aqaba. The shallow reef structures provide habitats for a multitude of reef fish and benthic organisms. Dense reefs are observed to a depth of 70m. While not known for large pelagic fish, the northern tip of the Gulf has seen repeated visits of whale sharks, barracuda, and jacks Sea-grass Beds.
Along the Marine Park shore exist three main types of sea-grass communities in the shallow waters ranging from depths of 0.5m to approximately 40m. These provide habitats for a variety of fish, urchins and invertebrates. The beds expand and contract seasonally providing a constant change in the underwater landscape.
While only a few species such as the urchin Tripneustes gratilla, and the surgeonfish Zebrasoma xanthurum and Ctenochaetus striatus feed directly on the sea-grass this bed of sea-grass provides a habitat to dozens of species of marine animals.
The Inter-tidal Zone
While the tidal range in Aqaba is only about 1 m in height, the inter-tidal area is host to a dense community of invertebrates which dominate the beach areas along the Marine Park. The inter-tidal zone is generally either a sandy area or a solid strata composed of coral reefs.
Park rules :
Jordanian legislation as relating to marine conservation is still limited and rudimentary. Up until the end of 2000, Law No. 12 of 1995 (The Law of the Environment) formed the basis of marine conservation and protection. October 1999 saw the release of a by-law addressing the marine environment in greater detail (No.(51) of 1999).
In accordance with article (56) of the ASEZ law no. (32) Environment By-Law no. (21) and Aqaba Marine Park By-Law no. (22) were issued and ratified in 2001. Further AMP regulations are being drafted to define various issues and activities in the park, including boating, water sports, fees, and other park regulations. These regulations are expected to be adopted in the first quarter of 2002.for more details kindly visit the aqaba marine park website www.aqabamarinepark.jo.
Facilities and activities :
- Park Facilities :
A series of facilities have been set up by the park to serve the park visitor to, on the one hand make the visitor’s stay in the park more enjoyable and, on the other hand encourage proper visitor behavior to protect the natural environment.
- Beach Facilities :
- Public Toilets and showers have been provided by the park on various beaches for the use by park visitors.
- A Camping area has been established at beach no. 4 for the use by campers. The camp site is serviced by water, electricity, toilets and showers, as well as kiosks and car parks.
- Three kiosks have been set up along the park beaches to provide additional services to visitors. These kiosks are run by non-profit organizations.
- Sun Shades have been installed along various beaches for visitor use. Furthermore, each dive site is serviced by shaded benches for the use of divers while kitting up and de-kitting to provide relief from the summer sun.
- Garbage Bins have been installed throughout the park to provide easily accessible garbage disposal facilities for visitors to help keep the park clean.
- First Aid/Ranger stations have been established at various points throughout the park for the safety of visitors.
- Park Signage has been installed throughout the park to acquaint visitors with park regulations as well as provide information on commonly seen fish in the park.
- Watch Towers have been installed along the beaches to provide a platform for park staff to monitor the beaches and ensure visitor safety.
Park Visitors Center:
The park’s visitor center is the corner stone of the park’s many facilities and was established to house the park’s administration and to be the focal point of the park’s public environmental education and outreach programs. Environmental awareness activities such as lectures, audio-visual shows and interactive exhibits are part of the park’s efforts to raise awareness of the marine environment and its’ habitats and the need to protect and conserve them. An important part of the park’s management philosophy is the inclusion and partnering with local environmental NGOs in its activities to reach out to as many of the park’s stake holders as possible.
- A multi-purpose auditorium.
- The park management’s offices.
- The park rangers’ diving unit.
- Park ranger accommodations.
- 3 Exhibition halls.
- A gift shop.
- A reception area.
- A restaurant.
- An out-door amphitheatre.
- Storage facilities.
playgrounds area for children has been established at beach no. 3 (Visitor Center area ) which can be used by citizens free of charge.
sports fields area has been established :
- beach volleyball court at the beach no.3(Visitor Center area ) .
- beach football court at the beach no.4.
which can be used by citizens free of charge.
Marine Facilities :
- Three types of buoys are used in the park;
- White mooring buoys which are for the use of boaters to avoid the use of anchors which damage the sea bed.
- Park boundary buoys are orange in color and demarcate the park’s marine boundary.
- Zoning buoys are being installed to demarcate the different boating and non-boating zones in the park.
- Wooden Jetties have been installed at various points to provide easy entry into the sea without wading across coral reefs as well as to provide easy pick-up and drop-off points for boats .
- Hydrostatic Testing of Diving Cylinders :
In its efforts to ensure safe diving practices in Aqaba, the park management installed hydrostatic testing facilities at the park’s visitor center to provide reliable and affordable testing services to all dive centers in accordance to international diving safety standards.
- Dive Site Management :
Scuba diving is one of the main tourist attractions to Aqaba and poses a significant threat to the marine habitats if not monitored and managed to ensure sustainable use of the local reefs. As a result the Aqaba Marine Park developed a comprehensive dive management policy to protect the underwater habitats while permitting access to the various dive sites. Some of the main elements of the dive management policies include :
- Inspecting and certifying all dive centers in Aqaba.
- Developing and enforcing diving regulations throughout the marine park, including public awareness activities and installation of signage throughout the park.
- Designation of dive sites and establishing safe entry and exit areas to protect divers and the fringing coral reef.
- Installation and maintenance of mooring buoys for boats as anchoring is illegal.
- Installation of sun shades at each dive site for the comfort of divers and to provide shelter from the summer sun.
- Continuous monitoring of dive sites to estimate carrying capacities and to initiate rotation of dive sites if sites are stressed due to heavy usage.
The Aqaba Marine Park is home to 21 of the 23 dive sites in Aqaba and they are 9 scuba diving centers in Aqaba. Most of the diving is in the form of shore diving with dive centers bussing divers to each site, and generally each will offer 2 dives per day using 12 liter cylinders.
- Aqaba marine park dive sites map :
Public Out reach and education :
- Educational Resources :
The key element in the success of the park’s conservation work is the co-operation of the stake-holders. It is imperative that the local community adopt the philosophy of protecting the park and its natural resources as legislation and policing can only achieve a small part in protecting the fragile ecosystems the park holds in custody for future generations.
The first step in gaining the support of the local community is extensive public awareness and educational programs aimed at the local civil community, business community, government authorities including the police and the courts, as well as Jordanians from all over Jordan and foreign tourists from around the world. This is all done through :
- Holding workshops for all stake-holders.
- Presenting the park and the need to conserve it during symposiums and conferences.
- Participation in local and international exhibits.
- Hands-on activities such as beach clean-ups mobilizing students, dive centers, businesses, government agencies and others.
- The promotion and supporting of environmental NGOs and helping them widen the scope of their activities and increasing their role in the park’s activities.
- Park Archive :
In support of the park’s awareness activities a series of publications including videos, posters, brochures, photo libraries etc has been compiled in the park for the use of interested parties to act as a resource center for the advancement of marine conservation activities in Aqaba and the regionwww.aqabamarinepark.jo.