The Gulf of Aqaba, located at the northern end of the Red Sea, is the northermost tropical sea ecosystem. Its oxygen-rich water has a constant temperature of 21-24 deg. C. The Gulf supports a dense population of more than 100 species of corals, 800 species of fish and hundreds of species of crustaceans and molluscs in a fragile environmental equilibrium.
The region's delicate ecosystem, which is the main source of attraction in the area, is at the same time endangered by uncontrolled development in the region. Future tourism depends in part on preserving the unspoiled landscapes and spectacular seascapes. Transportation and conveyance installations (oil, phosphates) as well as other industrial activities along the Gulf shores, can potentially endanger tourism development in the entire Red Sea area. Eilat and Aqaba are principal ports, with major oil terminals moving millions of tons of oil every year - Aqaba port alone handles between 20-30 million tons yearly. Phosphate, potash and bromide export facilities, naval bases, commercial ports, marinas and pleasure boats, bathing beaches and water sports all place extra stress on the Gulf's ecosystem, threatening to irreparably damage this most precious asset.
5.1. Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan
A comprehensive, integrated approach to coastal zone management is needed to ensure sustainable economic development as well as environmental protection of the Gulf area. Such an approach is reflected in Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Plan developed by Jordan, and being formulated by Israel and Egypt in conjunction with the World Bank and the European Union. This project facilitates environmental management of costal zone and protect biodiversity, marine and coastal ecosystems throughout the Red Sea area. It is being prepared in parallel to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Strageic Action Programme (SAP) and complies with Annex IV of the peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan.
The Jordanian Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan (GAEAP) proposes 23 actions in six categories: legal and regulatory framework, institutional strengthening, infrastructure investments; protected area management; monitoring and applied research; and public awareness and environmental education. 11 of the 23 actions are classified as top priority actions, including measures to strengthen the institutions and implement curative and preventative transboundary environmental issues.
Specific project objectives include:
- development and enforcement of the legal framework and regulations for the control of transboundary pollution;
- development of regional collaborative mechanisms for environmental management;
- providing safeguards against oil pollution of aquifers and the marine environment;
- establishment of guidelines for development of the coastal zone;
- assessment of the effects of wastewater seepage on the quality and level of the transboundary groundwater table;
- implementation of a plan to control transboundary solid waste impacts on the marine and coastal water resource systems;
- preparation and implementation of site-specific plans for the conservation of transboundary eco-systems;
- addressing issues related to urbanization, tourism development and mariculture.
The Plans component projects address the major regulatory and institutional arrangements required to ensure effective transboundary environmental management:
Israel and Egypt are currently in the process of developing similar environmental action plans.
Due to shipping in the Gulr of Aqaba, there are real risks of oil spills. Whereas the majority of calls of cargo vessles and ferry boats are concentrated at Aqaba and Nuweiba, the oil tanker traffic almost exclusively embarks at Eilat. The contingency arrangement proposed below is based on risks of spills from present ships patterns. The future traffic is difficult to predict and may cause greater risks to the environment and alter the needs for oil spill combat equipment.
A project initiated under the auspices of the Multilateral Working Group and supported by the European Union has lead to the establishment and upgrading of three oil spill response centers in Aqaba, Eilat and Nuweiba Through cooperation among the centers, damage from larger spills is being minimized.
Based on the assessment of risks of oil spills and vulnerability of the coastal zones in the region, the combat strategy adopted is that oil spills will be contained and recovered through the use of mechanical equipment offshore, as close as possible to the source, or deflected to less sensitive parts of the shorelines and cleaned up on the beach.
The project is headed by a Project Steering Committee with representatives from Egypt, Israel and Jordan, plus a EU representative. Oil spill centers for implementation include the Nuweiba Oil Spill Center, Eilat Marine Pollution Control Station, and the Aqaba Port Corporation.
5.3. Sewage Treatment in Eilat
Sewage treatment is a major environmental problem in Eilat. Past practices have endangered coral reefs in the Eilat area. The citys current treatment facilities produces low-quality treated effluents for irrigation in the Eilot region. A new treatment facility is in advanced planning stages. This system, one of the projects of the Development Plan for Eilat and the Eilot region, will be built next to the oxidation ponds, 5 kilometers north of the city limits. This facility will produce higher quality water which can be used for watering public landscaped areas. Flow of sewage to the sea can be entirely eliminated and prevented.
Development of the treatment system will be in three stages. During the first stage, 9 million m3 sewage will be treated. The facility will be expanded to handle 12 million m3 at a later stage and 16 million m3 by the yea2010. Treated effluents will be reused for irrigating public parks in Eilat, for watering new recreation grounds north of Eilat and for irrigating agricultural fields in the Eilot region.