April 25, 2014

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Mission Blue partner, Kai Marine Services is conducting a marine protected area program to increase the resilience of nomadic communities pushed to the shores of the Gulf of Aden by climate change

Cape “Bab El Mandeb”, the second busiest Traffic Separation Scheme of the planet, is unfortunately renowned as a hotspot of piracy. But behind this sad picture that reflects some of the illnesses of our modern civilisation there is much more. This strait between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean’s Gulf of Aden is considered one of the largest Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.36.46 PMfish aggregation sites of the planet and a hot spot of biodiversity. This is the result of the extraordinary oceanography and physiography generated by the collision between the African and the Asian tectonic plates which have provided the connection of the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. 

In this amazing laboratory of geology, where we can dive to witness the source of the Rift Valley and the birth of an ocean,  we can find along the shores of Djibouti some of the most pristine and unique marine and coastal habitats of our planet. The coral reefs of Djibouti are among the three reef systems of our planet to have shown most resilience with regards to the last global phenomena of coral bleaching.  These coral reefs form a Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.36.39 PMlong and colourful line along the coast, building a barrier protecting the coastline from erosion, and offering a solid foundation for the proliferation of sea life in many forms. Few reefs around the globe are as pristine and healthy as these, and this can be seen in the variety of species but also very specially in the size and quantity of fish and the abundance of predators.  The reef, the sea grass prairies and the mangrove forests of Djibouti are also the feeding ground and shelter for other species, as dugongs, two species of dolphin and green turtles, olive ridleys, hawksbill turtles, loggerhead and leatherback turtles, that lay their eggs on the endless  sandy beaches of this region.

Offshore from the reefs, the continental shelf of Djibouti drops rapidly to depths of over 1000 metres. Here top pelagic species aggregate during their migrations making use of this important foraging habitat. Sharks, tunas, and cetaceans as the humpback, the blue whale and beaked whales complete the picture of this amazing marine paradise.

But the relevance of this fantastic biological richness is not only in terms of beauty or biodiversity conservation. Since 2013, KAI Marine Services, partner of Mission Blue, is assisting the Government of Djibouti on a Marine Protected Area programme of the United Nations Development Programme. This programme has the aim of preserving this natural treasure and developing management plans for four MPAs that are to serve as the foundation for a sound and sustainable development of the country in the coming years.

Djibouti has ahead the important opportunities but also challenges of an economic development that is urgently necessary for its population. This economic growth finds its niche in the sectors of security, transport, energy, industry, education, science andScreen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.37.13 PM tourism. On the other hand, for nomadic tribes pushed towards the shores of the Gulf of Aden by climate change, the seas are now the last resort.

The Djibouti MPA Programme seeks to ensure the maintenance of a favourable conservation status of these ecosystems in order to increase the resilience of the coastal communities, and provide a sound foundation for their sustainable development, avoiding management practises that could lead to a fast deterioration of these fragile habitats which would have devastating social and economic effects.

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KAI’s team will be assisting the DATE (Department of land management and environment)) of Djibouti in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Photos by R. Sagarminaga and P. Canals.

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