Delicate balance of nature at risk from modern lifestyles

NICHOLAS SCHOON

Being rammed by a large cruise ship is the latest of the insults experienced by the great coral reefs of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea.

These are among the most rich, diverse and colourful wildlife habitats in the world - and as such they have begun to attract large numbers of scuba divers from Europe, who fly in to Egypt and Israel for diving holidays. Dozens of hotels have sprung up.

The Ras Mohammed nature reserve has been created by the Egyptian authorities at the southern tip of the peninsula. The Cunard cruiser struck a reef near its boundaries.

The coral in this area and elsewhere faces several threats from some of the more careless divers who come to see it, and the multitude of colourful fish living on the reefs. They drop anchors onto the brittle limestone life forms, break chunks off when they touch it, even take some deliberately as souvenirs.

Hotel development leads to sewage run-off which can damage the reefs. In other parts of the tropics dynamite fishing and collection of corals, molluscs and other invertebrate life for tourist curios takes its toll. Deforestation can lead to quantities of silt being flushed off the land onto the reefs by rainwater, smothering them.

Man-made global warming poses another threat. Large areas of coral reef around the world have been bleached - the symbiotic green algae living inside the tiny coral polyps have left, leaving them weakened and whiter.

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