As of 2001, Samadai became the centre of “dolphin frenzy” and hundreds of people used to travel from as far as Hurghada to swim and play with the resident spinner dolphins. In a single day Samadai played host to up to 30 boats and 500-800 people: boats were anchoring directly on the reef and guests, including inexperienced snorkelers, let into the water with no regard to the resting dolphins.
Concern arose as the situation was becoming unbearable for the dolphins of Samadai and members of the caring community raised the alarm. Immediate action had to be taken to protect this precious sanctuary and important tourist site. HEPCA and local operators, as well as local and regional governmental authorities and organisations intervened and, after submission of several reports to the Red Sea Governor signed by Dr. Mahmoud Hanafy, it was decided to close the site until the establishment and enforcement of a proper management plan.
In 2003, efforts and intuition from members of the community, local authorities and scientists from national and cross boundaries associations, were confirmed and enhanced by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, renowned conservationist and cetologist, who supported a management scheme based on a precautionary principle geared towards mitigating the human impacts on the dolphins by regulating the access to the site. The objective was to find, for the very first time in Egyptian waters, the perfect balance between wildlife conservation and the tourist industry, a combination that has been proven to be successful elsewhere in the world.
The plan was required to fulfil the following:
- Regulate the tourism activities by creating dedicated zones in the reef
- Establish best practice guidelines
- Implement a proper monitoring programme
- Implement a service fee system to contribute to environmental conservation efforts
- Implement a public awareness program
In 2004, HEPCA, the EEAA and the National Parks Authority of Egypt signed an unprecedented agreement that represented the first case of cooperation between an NGO, the private sector and the National Parks in Egypt. This cooperation resulted in the establishment of a protected area that encompasses the reef and is managed according to a scheme articulated on the following main points.
Zone A,B,C: The need to ensure that the dolphins have a safe, exclusive and restricted area within the reef was formalized by creating a zoning plan. A clear no-entry zone corresponding with the inner (quieter and more protected) lagoon, called Zone A, was established. Zone B was designed for swimmers and snorkelers only and is a strip of calm and safe waters where transit of speedboats is prohibited. Mooring, diving and other activities can take place in Zone C.
Visits limitation: In an attempt to reduce quantity and duration of human impact exposure, time limitations and maximum number of guests allowed in the reef daily were set. Guidelines and best practices were also proposed, including, for safety reasons, making it obligatory for all snorkelers to wear a life jacket.
Entrance fee: In order to generate an income to be reinvested to ameliorate and maintain the site, an entrance fee was established and only visitors provided with tickets are allowed in the protected area.
Scientific monitoring and research efforts: Several monitoring programmes have been carried out in the site to watch over the dolphin population and the tourist activities. The Rangers from the National Park, besides enforcing the plan, have been monitoring the presence of dolphins in the reef since 2004. A 1-year dedicated project was conducted from 2005 to 2006 to assess the dolphin population’s size, composition, behaviour, spatio-temporal habitat use and feeding ecology.
Daily trips to Samadai are offered by most of the dive centres and operators in Marsa Alam. If you are planning to visit the site and contribute to the promotion of conservation in the Red Sea, please be informed about our suggested code of conduct.
These are very basic and simple precautions based upon the understanding that whenever we have the chance to encounter wild animals in their habitat, WE are the guests. Any interactions must be engaged by the animals, no pressure or onus to establish contact must be imposed. To adhere to these regulations is the first and easiest step to reduce the adverse effect that human interactions might have on a school of dolphins. Keep in mind that a schools’ sensitivity strictly depends on its composition: whenever mothers and calves are present, try to be even more precautionary and avoid any disturbance to them.
They are way too fast: Paddle gently and quietly to intercept the route of the dolphins and then stop; wait for the animals to pass close and let them decide if and how an interaction will take place. Keep in mind that swimming hectically behind them and chasing the group will most likely make the animals speed up and disappear rapidly.
Let them lead: The dolphins might swim very close and start interacting with us. This is an enjoyable moment that would be ruined if we agitate the animals by free diving on the group, using uncontrolled movements in an attempt to get closer to them and creating sounds and noise (including splashes). These activities are generally not tolerated by the animals and would result in the animals speeding up and the end of the interaction.
Enjoy: Interacting with a highly intelligent and curious creature such as dolphins is the dream of a life time. This is an unforgettable moment, and we are always borne along by enthusiasm and emotion while swimming with the dolphins. However, we should all keep in mind that these are wild animals. Never try to touch them, besides the fact that this could lead to the onset of skin infections (to you and/or the dolphins), for their safety you want these animals to remain wild and not habituated to humans. Dolphins are not pets, they deserve the same respect and deference we use to treat with other wildlife.