The main issues of concern in the coastal zones of Northern Africa are the effects of rapidly developing tourism and industrial activities along the coast combined with rapid population growth (UNEP 1997). These pressures are beginning to have impacts on the quality and stability of the physical and biological coastal environment. There are also serious concerns over the potential impacts of climate change, particularly the vulnerability of coastal settlements and natural habitats to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.
The marine and coastal zones of Northern Africa support tourism, fishing, and petroleum industries. The significant onshore and offshore oil and gas deposits in the sub-region are the mainstays of countries’ economies, providing opportunities for export and employment.
Figure 2c.4: Trends in marine fish catch for Northern Africa, 1972–97
Coral reefs are widely spread and well developed in the Red Sea, with 194 species of coral and at least 450 common reef-associated species. These are also some of the most northerly located coral reefs, and have many endemic species.
Mangroves are found along the southern Red Sea coast, and are important sources of molluscs, crabs, shrimp, fish, and raw materials for construction, animal fodder, and fuel. They are also important nesting sites for migratory waterbirds. Sea grasses are also fairly common along the southern Red Sea, and rare or protected species such as turtles and dugongs add to the species richness and diversity that attracts an estimated one million tourists per year to the region (UNEP 1997).
Northern Africa also has economically important marine fisheries from which total catches increased from 845 211 tonnes in 1990 to 1.1 million tonnes in 1997, an increase of about 30 per cent (FAOSTAT 2001). The trend in marine fish catches in the Northern Africa sub-region over the past 30 years is shown in Figure 2c.4.
Although fishing activity has increased in the Mediterranean over the years, its fisheries are not showing signs of overexploitation. In fact, surprisingly— as the demand for fisheries products is growing and as most countries lack formal and coordinated fisheries management—there has been an increase in production for all major species (FAO 1997).
Mediterranean states are party to the FAO’s General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean, but this is largely ineffectual and fishing by commercial fleets is virtually unregulated. At the 22nd session of the Council, member states were urged to negotiate and implement an effective management regime based on the precautionary principle and reflecting the underlying tenets of important international initiatives (WWF 1997). Artisanal fishery resources are also important in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Shallow water species such as butterfly fish and damselfish are most common, although the area also supports rock lobster, cuttlefish, shrimp, and sea cucumber.
More than 40 per cent of the Mediterranean area’s population live in coastal zones (UNEP 1996), with the greatest densities along the Nile Delta and Algerian coast (up to 500–1000 inhabitants/km2 in some areas) (Blue Plan 1996). Urbanization in coastal north-west Africa has been driven mainly by oil discoveries and increased industrialization in or near the coastal areas and the associated new economic opportunities. This has led to an almost complete transformation of northwest African society and gradually increasing pressures on coastal areas.