Last Update: 08 September 2012

overview

Sha'ab Samadai

Sha’ab Samadai, a reef located a few miles off-shore from Marsa Alam, is a unique site. It is a preferred resting area for spinner dolphins and consequently became a popular tourist destination in the last decade. The steps that brought about its successful management and conservation are promising examples that ecosystems and wildlife can be effectively protected before it is too late.
Sha'ab Samadai Sha'ab Samadai Sha'ab Samadai

Samadai is a crescent-shaped off-shore reef located approximately 5km from Marsa Alam city.

The site is often referred to as ‘Dolphin House’, a reference to the fact that this reef is a habitat for spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), a species found worldwide at tropical and subtropical latitudes, which is known to actively travel and feed in open waters at night and to rest in shallow lagoons and bays during the daytime. Sha’ab Samadai is one of the few sites in the Egyptian Red Sea that fits the criteria of an ideal resting area. This horseshoe-shaped reef, 1.4 km long and 1 km wide, is oriented east-to-west, forming a natural lagoon open to the south; is sheltered from the prevailing northerly winds; has a shallow, sandy bottom and is protected from the waves.

By taking advantage of the fact that the site is quiet and contains neither predators nor major threats, the animals have time to relax and recover from their nocturnal activities and mothers are able to lower their guard and allow their calves to swim freely. The hours spent in the resting area are crucial for spinner dolphins since social interactions and mating also take place.

In this controlled environment the echolocation system, the energetically consuming “sonar” that the dolphins use to explore the surroundings, can be safely switched off: they rely only on eyesight and sleep alternatively with a portion of the brain.

If the ideal conditions are not met and the animals are unable to properly rest, detrimental consequences may affect the population (i.e. less efficiency in feeding, decreased ability to engage social contacts, higher risk of predation, all of which due to tiredness and slow reactions) leading to the population’s decline or displacement to other more suitable locations. When no other alternative sites are available (a situation that is likely to occur in the Egyptian Red Sea case study) the population would be forced to remain in the site which has become unsuitable and inadequate and tolerate the disturbance with adverse effects that are likely to become apparent in the long term.

In the last decade, dolphin watching and swimming with dolphin opportunities have boomed along the Egyptian Red Sea and  in certain sites are possibly posing serious threats to the health of these wild populations. Sha’ab Samadai was saved in time: this case study should inspire further precautionary conservation initiatives.