A multidisciplinary mission conducted by the Swiss-led initiative the Transnational Red Sea Center (TRSC) in September 2022 reports coral reefs of the Gulf of Tadjoura in excellent health despite extremely high seawater temperatures.
In Djibouti, the corals of the Gulf of Tadjoura are doing extremely well. Along the coasts of the small state of the Horn of Africa located at the southern end of the Red Sea, corals offer a particularly delightful shimmer of forms and colours, hosting very diverse and rich fish communities and other invertebrates – a sharp contrast to many other coral reefs localities outside the Red Sea region.
The exceptional health of Djibouti’s corals is the welcomed reality that the Transnational Red Sea Center was able to witness and record during the scientific mission it carried out in Djiboutian waters in September 2022, in partnership with the University of Djibouti, the Djibouti Study and Research Centre (CERD), the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) and the Red Sea University in Port Sudan. Despite an average water temperature of 31 degrees Celsius – the local seasonal peak – no sign of bleaching was detected on the six sites studied by the mission.
During the Djibouti mission, the TRSC continued the implementation of five core science programs on 1) the quantification of coral cover, diversity and health through 3D mapping at scale and semantic segmentation using computer machine learning, 2) the evaluation of the coral population structure and dynamic, and their adaptative potential to thermal stress through a method known as Seascape Genomics, 3) the estimation of acclimatization status of coral in their thermal environment using their physiological response during Thermal Performance Curve assays, 4) the systematic measurement of heavy metal, organic pollutant and plastic (macro and micro) pollution in reef sediment and coral tissue, and 5) the estimation of coral species assemblages through optimized environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding.
The samples collected throughout the summer have already been processed at the Marine Science Station in Aqaba, Jordan, and at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, in collaboration with local scientists, and are now being analysed in laboratories at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The first results are expected to be reported early next year. This scientific mission was also used as an opportunity to meet students from the University of Djibouti and teach them about our different programs, in order to raise awareness, but most importantly to start the implementation of a long-term collaboration focusing on scientific education on the marine systems.
After a first similar mission in the northern Gulf of Aqaba (Israel and Jordan) in July-August 2022, this new mission in Djibouti is part of the long-term effort led by TRSC to conduct such scientific programs in a systematic manner throughout the Red Sea, with the aim of establishing the first-ever Red Sea-wide inventory of coral reef ecosystem and biodiversity. The results of these programs are to be made available to governments in the region to contribute to the development of relevant and effective conservation policies, as well as to the scientific community at large in accordance with the Open Science principle.