Our first week of this marine science workshop at KAUST consisted of all-day lectures and laboratory tours where we learned about the genetics and ecology of Red Sea coral reefs. This weekend, we finally got to experience them in person. KAUST arranged for us to jump on a boat at 8 am yesterday and head out for a full day of snorkeling on the coral reefs along the coast line, and it was by far the most amazing coral cover that I have ever seen in my life. When I dove in Mo’orea, there were reefs all around the island that supported a great amount of life, but almost all of the coral itself was dead, leaving behind a hard white structure for everything else to live in. The reefs that we went to here in Saudi had gorgeous, healthy corals in pinks, blues, purples, and yellows, with schools of little reef fish darting all over the place. Check out the photos to see for yourself.
On this snorkeling trip, we visited 3 sites: 1 ship wreck and 2 reefs. Our first stop was the ship wreck, which had been carrying giant cement blocks across the Red Sea before it crashed into the reef that it now lies next to. The deck was covered in corals and hosted tons of different kinds of small reef fish. Although the corals themselves were thriving (something that I was amazed by after seeing many bleached or dying reefs in other parts of the world), all of the sites were lacking one thing: large predatory fish. The day before we went on this snorkeling trip, one of the post docs at KAUST told me to look at the fish communities on the reefs and then go to the fish market in Jeddah (the nearest large city to KAUST), and I would be able to see why the reefs are full of tiny fish. All of the large fish like sharks and groupers are being heavily fished along the Saudi Arabian coastline, so all of the big fish that I was hoping to see were few and far between. This post doc even joked that I could put my parents at ease by telling them all of the sharks had been fished out of the area, so my diving excursions wouldn’t involve any run-ins with Jaws.
Later that evening, our workshop group went out to one of the restaurants at KAUST, where there were 3 main course options for the evening: Chicken, beef, or grouper. After spotting only one grouper the whole day and hearing about fishing pressures in the area for the past week, the girl across the table said “I’d rather see them on the reef,” and we both ended up getting the other meats.