17. February 2019 Christine Gstöttner

Sharkproject in Egypt: What’s next for the Brother Islands?

Foto: Michael Weberberger

Until a few months ago, it was believed that shark attacks in the Red Sea solely affect swimmers and snorkelers. In November 2018, however, Hurghada Environmental and Conservation Association (HEPCA) received 3 notifications on non-fatal injuries of divers in the area of the Brother Islands’ reefs caused by small whitetip oceanic sharks of sizes less than 2.0m in total. In addition, HEPCA received several notifications concerning attacks without any injuries on divers by individuals of the same species and sizes.
After reviewing all incidents, HEPCA came to the following conclusion:

  1. All incidents are non-provoked attacks with zero to minimal, non-fatal injuries.
  2. All incidents are caused by oceanic whitetip sharks of small sizes ranged between 1-2m.
  3. The interaction between divers and sharks, especially with such rather curious shark species (oceanic sharks), are deteriorated due to bad human practices (mainly baiting), especially in consideration of the scarcity of shark prey due to overfishing.
  4. Shark baiting/feeding clearly occurs on purpose through baiting/feeding the sharks by boat crews and divers, as well as unintentionally through discharging the kitchen waste of the boats and throwing the leftover into the divespot.
  5. Brother Islands’ reefs are rated as over-used diving sites.
  6. Action must be taken asap, otherwise the interaction between divers and sharks is likely to worsen.

View from Little Brother to Big Brother island

Based on these outcomes, the Red Sea Governor issued a decree which prohibited diving operations around the Brother Islands for almost 3 weeks (i.the period of December 8-31st, 2018). In cooperation with Red Sea Protectorate (RSP) and the Chamber for Diving and Watersports Security (CDWS), HEPCA provided a field trip to the islands to investigate the shark population and the sharks’ behavior. They observed a behavior modification, particularly in the presence of baits. Hence, the Red Sea Governor is issuing a new decree, banning diving in the area of Brother Islands until March 15th, 2019.
In this period Sharkproject will support HEPCA on site from 18 to 21 February. As a first step, dive guides working on safaris will be trained on board the HEPCA ship Amr Ali Red Sea Defender at the Brother Islands. The training will also be used to provide an up-to-date assessment of shark behavior in the area. This initial training for experienced dive instructors will be designed as a “Train the Trainer” course in order to qualify the trained instructors to develop a series of workshops to train all dive guides in the Red Sea.

The training’s concept is based on

  • Shark behaviour
  • Code of conduct regarding safe diving with sharks
  • General best practices of operating trips

Additionally, the HEPCA experts together with RSP and CDWS were ordered by the Red Sea Governor to establish a site management plan for the reefs of the Brother Islands. The general goal of the plan is to preserve the reefs of the Brother Islands and to use the natural resources sustainably and safely for the divers.

The goals of the plan, which is currently in preparation, include in particular

  • Establish and implement a sustainability plan to reduce the current capacity of Brothers Islands riffs by 50%.
  • Raising environmental awareness as well as improving the performance and capabilities of the boat crews and dive guides to ensure proper and safe interactions with Sharks.
  • Create and establish a certification system for dive safari crews and dive guides operating on the distant islands, such as Brother Islands.
  • Establish a list of penalties for violations.
  • Establish a long-term investigative study on shark behavior and shark population in the areas of the distant islands, especially Brother Islands.
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