Red Sea large marine ecosystem

Source: NOAA


caption Location of the Red Sea LME. (Source: NOAA)

This Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) is characterized by its tropical climate. This semi-enclosed LME is situated between the continents of Africa and Asia, and it links the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Its width varies from 30 to 280 kilometers (km). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is supporting an LME project aimed at protecting the unique coral reefs of this LME, and sustaining its valuable coastal and marine resources. LME book chapters and articles pertaining to this LME include Baars et al, 1998, and Getahun, 1998.


The LME’s narrow elongated shape, its semi-enclosed character and its circulation patterns protect the coastal areas from storms. Its complex reef ecosystem, the most northern on earth, provides habitats for a wide range of marine species including endemic species (see Baars et al, 1998). For information on the LME’s coral reefs, see UNEP's Coral Reef site. Formed as a result of the expansion of the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea received its first biota from the Mediterranean Sea but now its biota (phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish fauna) bears more similarity to the Indian Ocean. For more information on the relationship between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in terms of geophysical, chemical and biologic phenomena, see Getahun, 1998. The Red Sea LME is considered a Class II, moderately productive (150-300 grams of Carbon per square meter per year (gC/m2-yr)), ecosystem based on SeaWiFS global primary productivity estimates. As a result of the wind system, surface currents flow from the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea during winter and reverse themselves in the summer. Meanwhile, the nutrient-rich bottom and mid-level currents flow in the opposite direction, resulting in a net outflow of nutrients from the Red Sea LME during the winter and its enrichment during the summer. For information on nutrient supply in the winter and summer, see Beckmann (1984). For information regarding a “monsoons and pelagic systems” project, see Baars et al, 1998. Water temperature and salinity increase from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. In spring and summer the Red Sea is oligotrophic (see Baars et al, 1998). Generally, there is a decrease of productivity from South to North (see Getahun, 1998).

Fish and Fisheries

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The greater marine biodiversity of this tropical region is reflected in the catch composition. Among species found in the LME are Raja fullonica, Sciaena aquila, and Syngnathus algeriensis. Endemic species include Sphyrna mokarran, Torpedo panthera, and Terapon jarbua (see Botros, 1971). The FAO 10-year trend shows an increase from 50,000 tons in 1990 to more than 80,000 tons in 1999 (see FAO, 2003, appendix figure 19). The bulk of the catch consists of miscellaneous coastal fishes and pelagic fishes. The catch of tunas, bonitos and billfishes is increasing, as is the catch of herrings, sardines and anchovies. A Red Sea Strategic Action Programme (SAP), PERSGA, a Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The University of British Columbia has detailed fish catch statistics for this LME. Click on the graph below for the FAO data. was initiated in 1995. There is a paucity of reliable data. Unregulated fishing is a threat to ecosystem health. One commercial species is lobster. A positive move is the replacement of gillnets with lobster traps, which will enable fishermen to release egg-bearing female lobsters. See information on PERSGA, a Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The University of British Columbia has detailed fish catch statistics for this LME. Click on the graph below for the FAO data.

Pollution and Ecosystem Health

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Due to its relatively small size, limited oceanographic circulation and high endemism, the Red Sea is particularly vulnerable to pollution, loss of species, and reduction in ecosystem productivity. The key environmental threats are unregulated fishing, uncontrolled development, and oil pollution. There is a pollution hotspot in the LME’s Gulf of Aqaba. Tankers make their way into this LME through the Suez Canal. It is a high-risk area in terms of navigation, and it requires the establishment of official traffic lanes and separation schemes for the heavy flow of traffic. The World Bank/GEF/PERGSA Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Red Sea aims to improve coastal and marine environments by reducing navigation risks, and preventing and controlling maritime pollution. Surveys have been completed to locate hazardous rocks. The LME’s extensive coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves suffer from the excesses of tourism, pollution discharges and industrial development. There is a need to establish more marine protected areas, to serve as havens for fish and for repopulation purposes. A marine park has been established by Israel and Jordan.

Socio-Economic Conditions

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The coast offers opportunities for economic development in the area of [[fisheries and aquaculture|fisheries, trade, petroleum, and tourism. Tourism (marine recreation, diving and snorkeling) attracts thousands of tourists each year and provides valuable foreign exchange. Local fisheries have for centuries provided food and employment to the people of the Red Sea. But the potential for fishing is being eroded in some coastal areas due to the degradation of the environment caused by pollution associated with industrial and urban development. The sustainable use of the important local resources requires a reduction in current pollution inputs.


The countries bordering the Red Sea LME are Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibuti, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan. Information is available on the GEF-supported projects in the Red Sea. The process of formulating a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) has played an important role in uniting the approach taken by the coastal countries bordering this LME. In 1982, they had signed the Jeddah Convention, which provides the legal framework for cooperation in marine issues. A Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) was established. The SAP identifies actions needed to protect the uniquely fragile coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangroves of the Red Sea coast. Its aim is to improve coastal and marine environments by supporting integrated coastal zone management and identifying the institutional and legal impediments to further regional cooperation. Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are creating marine protected areas that will provide sanctuaries for valuable species. There is a need to raise public awareness of the value of the marine environment through education.


Articles and LME Volumes

  • Baars, M.A., Schalk, P.H. and M.J.W. Veldhuis, 1998. Seasonal fluctuations in plankton biomass and productivity in the ecosystems of the Somali Current, Gulf of Aden, and Southern Red Sea. In Sherman, et al., (eds.), Large Marine Ecosystems of the Indian Ocean: Assessment, Sustainability, and Management, (Oxford: Blackwell Science). pp. 143-174. ISBN: 0632043180.
  • FAO, 2003. Trends in oceanic captures and clustering of large marine ecosystems—2 studies based on the FAO capture database. FAO fisheries technical paper 435. 71 pages.
  • Getahun, Abebe, 1998. "The Red Sea as an Extension of the Indian Ocean", in Sherman, et al., (eds.), Large Marine Ecosystems of the Indian Ocean: Assessment, Sustainability, and Management, (Oxford: Blackwell Science). pp. 277-283. ISBN: 0632043180.

Other References

  • Beckmann, W. 1984. "Mesozooplankton Distribution on a Transect from the Gulf of Aden to the Central Red Sea During the Winter Monsoon". Oceanolog. Acta. 7:87-102.
  • Botros, G. A. 1971. "Fishes of the Red Sea". Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Annual Review. 9: 221-348.
  • Halim, Y., 1984. Plankton of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Deep-Sea Res 31:969-982.
  • Seriy, V. V. 1968. "To the Problem of the Water Exchange Between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden". Okeanol. Issled 19: 195-200.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



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