Biodiversity & Fisheries


1. Biodiversity & Fisheries

Conservation of Marine and Coastal Resources

How Committed is the State of Eritrea to conserve its Marine and Coastal Resources?
The State through its relevant arm, the Ministry of Marine Resources has been dealing with the sustainable exploitation of the resources. Various national, regional and global commitments have been able to be accomplished through the last two decades and half of our independence period. As a country it has shown its relentless commitments to fight global warming issues and conservation of those globally critically endangered species of migratory in nature such as marine mammals, sea turtles, tuna and the like. It has been signatory state to different Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) such as Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, May 21, 1996), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, February 01, 2005), Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES, 14 August, 1995), Indian Ocean & South East Asian Sea Turtle (IOSEA, 01 February, 2006), Dugongs (Dugongs, 31 October, 2007), International Whaling Commission (IWC, 2007) and Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC, April, 24, 1995). The Ministry has established numerous national, regional and international contacts and connections such as CMS, PERSGA, IOSEA, IUCN, Birdlife International; etc. In addition Eritrea has been benefiting from the FAO and GEF funding for conservation of its marine and coastal resources

National Capacity Building: Since its conception, the Ministry of Marine Resources has been delivering different training sessions to its own and relevant stakeholder staff on subjects related to conservation, resources utilization and marine food safety and hygienic issues. Continuity of in situ training by different consultants, on job training by nationals and international staff, diving by the Eritrean Diving Centre; abroad training and study tours are some to mention. The result is encouraging as can be understood from the output of research teams and team leaders manned and lead by nationals.

The Ministry has most succeeded in enhancing the human capacity, knowledge and data of its Departments and hence staffs are potential for continuation of any marine resources research works the nation will accomplish. But on regular basis it has two arms which do the education and training programme.

1. Hergigo Fisheries Training in which basic fisheries techniques such as net making and mending, fishing boat riding and navigation, fisheries food processing and preservation, and fishing gears and fishing techniques are taught to local people with basic knowledge on fisheries and those who are being disadvantaged as a result of social issues such as widowed women and families with less income to support their families. The School is equipped with basic training materials and models and usually outsources trainers from the Ministry itself or other originations of relevant activities. It is located at Village of Hergigo where it has easy access of 20 minutes’ drive from the major port city of Massawa.

2. College of Marine Science & Technology (COMSAT) is a college of the continuation of the Department of Marine Biology and Fisheries of the University of Asmara. It has more than five Departments were students from all over the country are taught basic principles of marine biology, aquaculture, food sciences and marine engineering. Until 2016 it has graduated more than 1,500 students in certificate, diploma and degree levels. The output graduates have been assigned in their different fields of expertise to help the nation and the Ministry of Marine Resources sustain its human resource capacity. The College is located at the south eastern tip part of Massawa. It is equipped with the necessary educational and practical materials needy for the system.

3. Public Awareness: The coastal communities, schools, the two Red Sea Regional Administrations, the Navy, College of marine Science and Technology (COMSAT) and National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) have been the main target of the awareness programs that has been deployed since the inception of the Ministry. Production and distribution of quarterly newsletter, calendars, brochures and posters and other educational materials with different languages and effective participation in regional and national events, general knowledge and sport activities are some of the examples. Recently starting from 2015 articles and video clips were also involved on a regular basis on air on the national radio and television programs as well as the newspaper. The above noted efforts and other activities created and enhanced nationwide awareness of the need of the sustainable exploitation of our marine resources and conservation of those endangered species of interest. It is eventually leading to gradual behavioral change of those resources users in some cases.

It also realizes the importance of involving school children from an early age to recognize marine and coastal threats and fight to save these magnificent resources by arranging different activities such as beach cleaning activities.

Eritrean Marine Biodiversity at a Glance (Overview)
In general it can be concluded that the Eritrean Red Sea is the water body where mangroves, seagrasses, macro-algae, seabirds, marine turtles, dolphins, whales, coral reefs and thousands of invertebrates such as seashells and sea cucumber are to be found in their healthy state.

During the recent past years, several elements have shown the importance of the Eritrean coast and islands in terms of globally significant reservoir of biodiversity with unspoiled shores and waters. It has also been the place for the discovery of new species of fauna and flora, some of which are presently endemic to Eritrea which could make a strong case for declaring its resources especially the coral reefs as a world heritage site under the UNESCO category. Various recent surveys have also highlighted the importance of Eritrean Red Sea marine resources for the country, region and the rest world with a need of some active protection and conservation status in general.

2. Marine Life

a- Fishes
Generally the main land coastal areas and islands of the northern part of the Eritrean Red Sea are rich in fish abundance with a majority of coral reef fishes. Among the fishes which are identified includes snappers, emperors, groupers, parrotfish, surgeonfishes, butterflyfishes, angelfishes, fusiliers, jacks, rabbitfishes, grunts, damselfishes, wrasses, goatfish, globefish, stingray and others. These fishes are the main target of traditional fishing activities mainly with hook and line fishing. Few national vessels have been also actively involved exploiting the resources by longline fishing gears.





Surgeon fish

Butterfly fish







Blue spotted stingray

b- Corals
Results of previous and recent surveys on coral reefs realised high diversity of coral in many parts of the coast and the islands. At least 38 existing coral genera and more than 220 species have been recorded such as Acropora, Echinopora, Favia, Favites, Fungia, Galaxea, Goniopora, Montipora, Platygyra, Porites, Stylophora, Tubipora, Xenia and Pocillopora.

More than 100 reef sites sampled for substrate cover including three trips with Dr Charlie Veron from Australian, one of the world leading taxonomists on coral reefs. Additional coral species identified; with the discovery of five new coral species all presently endemic to Eritrea and preparations of reference collection of more than 300 specimens. Average % coral cover is estimated to range from 20 – 89 according to findings that have been analysed and reported for domestic and international use. One of the unique features of coral reefs found in the Red Sea given that the coral reefs in the Red Sea are patchy is that the Dessie – Madote Islands extension of more than 15 kilometres of healthy chains of coral reefs.

Coralreef Dessie-Madote

According to surveys the coral species of Eritrea and of the Red Sea have higher resistance to higher water temperature due to the already existing high water temperature of the Sea. Dr. Veron lecture had given at the Intercontinental Hotel Asmara in 2007, has highlighted the importance of Eritrean Red Sea reef for the country, region and the world. “It is this reef that could be least affected by the world climate change after two decades”.

Acropora sp.

Acropora sp.

Fungia sp.


Platygyra sp.

Coral reef

c- Seagrasses
The 12 seagrass species present in the Red Sea are correspondingly found in the Eritrean waters: dominated by Halodule uninervis and Thallasia hemprichii, the latter being the major food component of sea turtles and dugongs, in which both are considered globally critically endangered species. Although the seagrass distribution generally increases from north to south; significant sea grass beds are found around Dahlak Archipelogo islands such as Norah and Dehil Islands and the main land coast of the north. The surrounding Bay of Hawakil such as Gelealo areas, Harena and Marsa Fatuma & Bay of Salafi Tio area, Bay of Ber`asole, and Bay of Assab are all the major sites for sea-grass dominancy. Priority areas for seagrass areas are assessed.

Narrowleaf seagrass

Pacific turtlegrass

Noodle seagrass

Paddle weed, Spoon grass or Dugong grass

d- Seaweeds
Representing from the three main groups known as red, green and brown algae are commonly distributed along the Eritrean Red Sea especially the brown and red algae mostly occurring in hard substratum of the northern part and soft bottom dwellers fleshy green algae dominating the southern part.

Macroalgae such as Padina, Sargassum, Turbunaria, Caulerpa, Halimeda, Cystoseira, and Gracillaria are among the more than 200 species present in Eritrean Red Sea. But since most parts of Eritrean sea is not visited by botanist yet, still hopes for more new species to be discovered. And a well compartmentalized herbarium of 600 specimens is established in the Ministry of Marine Resources.

Although no directly human consumption as food have been recorded in the Eritrean coast, rare use of the brown algae species have been witnessed in making it as a component of animal feed especially for poultry farms by a local animal feed plant located around Gurgussum area near Massawa.

Padina sp.

Sargassum sp.

Turbinaria sp.

Halimeda sp. (Sea cactus)

Caulrepa sp. (Sea grape)

e- Mangroves
Of the seven mangrove species present in the Red Sea area, three are present in Eritrea, on the mainland coast and on numerous islands namely Avicennia marina (dominant), Rhizophora mucronata and Ceriops tagal.

The huge mangrove patches of Eritrea serve as the Spawning grounds for the fish and Shrimps. The mangroves act as an important breeding, nesting and wintering sites for migratory birds, both shorebirds and seabirds. The pink-backed pelican (Pelicanus refescens), the Western reef heron (Egretta gularis) and the Goliath heron (Ardea goliath) are among the common mangrove associated birds according to surveys conducted.

The 1,250 kms long coast line of Eritrea with an extent of 10,000 sq. kms with its 360 islands form the Red Sea is a veritable haven for the diverse form of marine life in general and mangrove in particular. The Mangroves are found from north to South coast with the best extant Mangroves in Marsas and Bays such as Marsa Ibrahim, Marsa Gulbub in the North, several isalnds of Dahlak Archipelago including the port city of Massawa and the closest island of Sheik said. In the Hawakil Islands such as Harena and Rasa and Bay of Anfile, Tio are worth mentioned. Moving toward south even gets you to a much extensive coverage of Mangrove areas such as Ber`asole and Assab Bay. Estimation results indicate that the country’s mangroves cover about 70 km².

The Ministry through its Manzanar Mangrove Planting initiative concept initiated in Hergigo coastal areas spread to other parts of Eritrea. Accordingly, a huge planting programme has been re-initiated in the Dahlak Islands. According to preliminary experimental results on use of mangroves, they are useful for grazing of ships and goats. In addition to the common uses, of mangrove flowers can be potential sources for raising bees and producing significant amounts of honey as it was encountered in the Ministry’s research trials.

Avicennia marina
  Grey mangrove or White mangrove

Rhizophora mucronata  Loop-root mangrove or red mangrove

Ceriops tagal  Spurred mangrove or Indian mangrove

f-Halophytes and Other Coastal Plants:
Generally the Eritrean coastline and Islands are vegetated with different species of halophytes and few non halophyte plants such as grasses and trees. They are observed to cover huge part of the islands and main land coast such as Tio area. Some commonly encountered include such as Zygophylum spp., Salicornia spp., Euphorbia spp, Suaeda spp. and other several.

The terrestrial sides of the coastal areas are covered with densely populated healthy acacia trees (tortilis) (dominant), Riverine Shrubs, ‘ankua’, & Dom Palms (Hyphaene thebaica) in which the latter is predominantly in areas of Assab especially Menkaekae and Abo.

Salicornia sp.


Suaeda sp.

Acasia sp.

g- Marine Turtles
Eritrean is home to five of the world’s seven turtle species, which all of them are globally threatened with extinction. Eritrea’s over 1200 km mainland coastline, together with bigger and numerous smaller offshore islands, provides important feeding and breeding habitats for the five turtle species, and nesting grounds for green, hawksbills and olive ridley. Islands of Mojeidi and Aucan are the major sites with thousands of nesting of turtle activity yearly. Generally over 100 nesting beaches are identified as nesting areas in the Eritrean Red Sea.

Green seaturtle

Hawksbill seaturtle

Oliver ridley searturtle

Loggerhead seaturtle

Leatherback seaturtle

Of the three species known to nest in Eritrea, the Hawksbill and Green turtles are the most common. But in 2005, an Olive Ridley turtle came to nest on the Ras Tarma beach. It was the first nesting record for this species for the whole Red Sea.

Beginning form 2007 several marine turtles have been tagged with titanium tags with return address to Eritrean Ministry of Marine Resources to study the migration pattern they possess. To date about 200 turtles have been tagged. On the other side, tags have been recovered between 1992 and 2006 from nesting females tagged mainly in Oman and Pakistan.

Eritrea is committed to conserve and manage these wonderful creatures and is a signatory of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (MOU IOSEA) under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) which recognizes the need for regional cooperation in turtle management and conservation.

Marine turtles also feature prominently in plans to set aside marine protected areas which will safeguard these resources and leave behind a longstanding legacy for future generation. Critical habitats include the Dahlak Archipelago Islands and Hawakil Bay Islands. In Southern Eritrean Red Sea Fatuma and Urubia islands are considered one of the best 10 sites with much nesting turtle activities; that in future can be stated as sanctuaries and regulated as such.

Map of sea turtle nesting sites (indicated in red in the map)

Nesting Activity by a female Hawks bill seaturtle

In some places sea turtles are illegally caught and slaughtered for subsistence food use. Major threat also comes from the industrial soft bottom shrimp/demersal trawlers trawling activities.

h- Marine Mammals

Only one species of Dugong (Dugong dugon) is found in the Eritrean Red Sea. It is widely distributed but less abundant throughout the shallow continental shelf of seagrass and macroalgae beds which are its main food components. Dugongs’ sites have been identified in several shallow bay areas with abundant sea grass cover and where mangroves are found covering the surrounding the bay.

Dolphins and whales are the most common marine mammals in the Eritrean waters. Although, the species list for the Eritrean Red Sea is known to be incomplete; about sixteen species of cetaceans are identified.

The Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), the Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), the Bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), and the Indo-pacific Hump-backed dolphin (Sousa plumbea) have been observed in Eritrean waters and frequently accompanying cruising boats for shorter distance. Whales are not observed very frequently, but in deeper waters being offshore, blowing are observed near north eastern Dahlak and the water channel between Dahlak and Buri Peninsula. In the open waters of the south such as Saroyta as the result of the abundant shrimp/krill abundance, they are encountered often.

Locations of whale sightings(indicated in red in the map)

The Tropical whale or Bryde’s/tropical whale (Balaenoptera edeni), Sperm whale (Physeter catodon), short finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), and the False Killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) have been frequently reported stranded and washed up to the coastal areas.


Spinner dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins

Bryde's whale

i- Seabirds and Shorebirds

The Eritrean coasts and islands are well known for the large diversity of seabirds and shorebirds. Eritrea being in the subtropical region, it contains a number of habitats that are suitable for migratory and resident bird population. Many species of seabirds and shorebirds exhibit migratory life styles. Most of them are migrating from the temperate or arctic northern hemisphere before winter in search of warmer breeding places to the tropics and southern hemisphere. Eritrea being in the subtropical region, it contains a number of habitats that are suitable for migratory and resident bird population.

78 species of seabirds and shorebirds have been identified, of which 22 are known to breed on the islands, mainly in summer. While 25 species are true seabirds belonging to different families such as tropic bird, booby, gull, tern and cormorant, the remaining utilize the marine environment partly or completely, including families such as pelican, spoonbill, heron, flamingo, duck, plover and sandpiper. In addition more than 50 species of land birds were identified on the Eritrean islands.

Based on field studies and data, critical sites for monitoring, conservation and management have been identified for their national, regional and international importance.

Pink backed pelican


Goliath heron


Crab plover

j- Marine Invertebrates

Although facing continuous pressure from fishery the sea cucumber is relatively in better condition as compared to other studies in the Red Sea and some outside. As there is no local consumption, major of the production is for exported. This activity is facing many problems related to management, regulation and lack of knowledge on the stock status and is becoming vulnerable to non-sustainable harvesting levels.

Other most abundant and well known invertebrates include worms, coelenterates, molluscs, echinoderms, arthropods and there are also species which are endemic to the Red sea due to its unique characteristics. Although some such as cowries and strombus are critically influenced by traditional collection due to their high valued products for shell souvenirs and snail perfumery, respectively; generally invertebrates are moderately less affected. But the industrial demersal trawling is an added threat to soft bottom invertebrates as well.

Sea cucumber



Disclaimer: This page is just to give you an overview of what marine and coastal resources are there in the Eritrean Red Sea and guide you of some activities have been done and are undergoing. This article has been referred from several of the Ministry of Marine Resources of the State of Eritrea documents and other relevant Project’s reports. The figures mentioned may not necessarily mean accurate but for more information contact relevant Departments and Experts in the Ministry.


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