Dear MPA News:
Upon reading the April 2008 issue of MPA News, I was surprised, if not somewhat dismayed, at the unduly rosy description you gave of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park (RSMPP). I conducted research on this transboundary "marine protected area" for my doctoral dissertation. I would characterize this as a proposed protected area that unfortunately has had neither the funding nor the political and institutional commitment it needs.
For my research, I applied a method of spatial multi-criteria analysis on the entire park area for the purposes of developing a proposed protective zoning plan (see Ocean and Coastal Management, 50, pp. 499-522). My impressions were that very little had been accomplished other than a number of academic articles touting the so-called cooperative management and a report summarizing the results of the monitoring program, published in 2003.
By 2005, when I met with Israelis and Jordanians on the subject, the cooperative management between the two sides was virtually non-existent. I spoke with many people - residents of the city of Eilat on the Israeli side and Jordanians in Aqaba, including fisherman and businesspeople working in tourism - who had never heard of the Red Sea Marine Peace Park. The two real protected areas that comprise the RSMPP and predated its designation - Aqaba Marine Park on the Jordanian side and the Coral Reef Nature Reserve on the Israeli side - are two completely separate and limited entities.
Considerable funding was originally allocated to develop the peace park by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). A research team of Israelis and Jordanians conducted joint monitoring, beginning in 1999. The original program had many very positive elements, such as an educational component to raise local awareness of the need to ensure the continued existence of the remarkable Gulf of Aqaba coral reefs. However, other than the joint monitoring that was completed by 2003, it appears that none of the other elements are being implemented.
The RSMPP is a great idea. However, it needs much more substance than it currently has to be touted as a success or an exemplar. I will rush to applaud any effort to make it one, but in the meantime I do hope there are transboundary MPAs that function as much in practice as in concept.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Crowell House MS #41, Woods Hole, MA 02543, US. Tel: +1 508 289 2773; E-mail: mportman [at] whoi.edu
Editor's note: Michael Crosby, who played a leadership role in planning the RSMPP joint research program in the 1990s when he was with the (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responds to Portman's letter:
"There are immense political, social and cultural forces in the Gulf of Aqaba region with which all participants in the RSMPP have contended on a daily basis. The participants of the RSMPP should be applauded for their accomplishments through countless periods of regional turmoil over the years. That said, Michelle Portman is correct that the RSMPP has had neither the political nor funding support it needs. More support is necessary to build on the goodwill and real partnerships that continue today between marine scientists and resource managers of Aqaba and Eilat. The US should be a leader in facilitating this effort, ideally in partnership with the EU, World Bank and private foundations. With a small amount of support, an apolitical Gulf of Aqaba Research Consortium could be built that would include partnerships between all four countries bordering the Gulf of Aqaba (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia)."
Crosby, who is now at the University of Hawai'i, is working to build an endowment to fund such a consortium. For more information, e-mail him at mpcrosby [at] hawaii.edu.