Aqaba Gulf

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Area Aqaba Gulf
Place Aqaba
Country Jordan
Topics Tourism Industry
Author(s) Mohammad, Nawar & Reem
Case Study Area Aqaba.png


  • Aqaba is a primary tourist destination for locals and foreigners and one of the key diving locations in the world, due to its world-known coral reefs. In addition, the Gulf of Aqaba is the only seaport in the country of Jordan, which led to the presence of international trade in the area. Moreover, it is considered as international waters with Israel which is raising political conflicts and competitions in tourism strategies in the past few years. These factors are demanding and leading to an accelerating economic development to transform the area into a sustainable economic growth and touristic engine for the country, leaving heavy pressures on the coastal landscapes in the area, and as a result, it has raised our curiosity to understand the coastal landscape management plan in the area.

Location and scope

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A Landscape System Analysis

A.1 Landscape layers and their system context

Geomorphology, landscape units and coastal typology

The Gulf of Aqaba (GOA) is one of the two waterways that originate from the northern margin of the Red Sea, which is about 165 kilometers long, with an average width of 20 kilometers and 800 meters deep. It is also a developing rift at the southern end of the dead sea transform system. The whole structure is a part of the Syrian–African rift valley, which is flanked by a mixture of mountains and deserts both to the east and the west. The southern end of this important waterway is separated from the Red Sea by a shallow sill at the Straits of Tiran. The Fossil reefs indicate that in the past 7000 Years the Red Sea level was stable and vertical tectonic movements were negligible. Geological Studies indicate sedimentary structures from two trenches dug in beach sediments buried and emerged fossil reefs and the local submarine slope morphology. The GOA has been subject to rapid changes due to the Urban and industrial expansions, as well as, the dramatic appearance of Touristic resorts along the shoreline.

Land use

Green/blue infrastructure

  • What are the major potential elements of a green/blue infrastructure network? Are these likely to change/disappear? Why is that?

Actors and stakeholders

  • The main driving forces behind the change of the Landscape in Aqaba are the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZA) which is the main authority body in the city, as well as, the investors and the shareholders who are dramatically investing in the Recreational and Touristic sector. Local residents are the most affected by these changes since all the public beaches are now being transformed into 5 Stars resort beaches, which can only be used by the resorts' guests.

Sacred spaces and heritage

  • Aside from the diving tourism which Aqaba is famous for, there are several sites with religious, historical and cultural values to the locals and tourists, and some tourists come from Eilat and other neighboring countries to celebrate these sites.

Visual appearance and landscape narrative

  • There are several elements that characterize the landscape such as the high mountains surrounding the city, the sandy desert and the Red Sea with its rich coral reef.

A.2 Summary of you landscape system analysis and your development Targets

The goals that according to our drivers could be at risk include numbers 13, 14, and 15. Starting with climate action that has not been brought up by any of the local related parties. No action from local community or authorities is being taken towards the risks that are caused by the climate change that in return affect goal number 14 which is the life under water. Coral reefs dating back to more than 6000 years ago are at huge risk with all the encouraged increasing tourism in the area. Goal number 15, life on land, is another one at risk as to attention only given to the areas near the coast and the huge investments done there while excluding many people from their right to access and experience the coastal landscape

A.3 Theory reflection

1. UNDP, GEF and ASEZA, National Aqaba Ecotourism Development Plan (2014) - National Policy

A document prepared as a guideline for the project of Mainstreaming Marine Biodiversity Conservation into Coastal Zone Management in Aqaba. The most important guidelines were related to the promotion of Biodiversity friendly investments, as well as, the biodiversity conservation and coral reef protection plan, which had been partially applied in some of the coastal resorts constructed during the years 2015 - 2017, and some resorts have not applied these guidelines such the Ayla Project.

2. ASEZA, Aqaba Translocation Project Plan (2012) - National Policy

The heavy and continuous multi-use of the Aqaba Gulf in Tourism and industry have resulted in great load and damage of the coral reefs and demanded the authorities' attention to initiate guidelines for using the coastline feasibly but at the same time to conserve its environmental value. Therefore, and based on the guidelines listed in this plan part of the coral reef has been translocated to the Marine Park of Aqaba and the industrial zone has been moved to the most southern part of the coast.

3. EU Nature Protection Policy, European Commission Natura 2000 - European Policy

The goal of this policy is to stop the loss of Biodiversity on the European and the global scale by the year 2020, due to its importance to both our health and economy. Therefore, in 2011, the EU has adopted a strategy listing 6 targets and 20 actions to reach its goal of protecting the ecosystem and its services. And over the past 25 years, they have built the largest network of protected areas in the World known as Natura 2000, and their understanding is that protection alone is not enough so they have connected these PAs using green infrastructure to restore the ecosystem services and allow the different species to thrive across the EU's outstanding achievement Natura 2000. Similar to this, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has suggested 11 sites as SPA "Suggested Protected Areas", and 18 as PA "Protected Areas" but has but has not created a green infrastructure network yet. But it is currently working on strategies to protect the coral reefs of Aqaba Gulf and doing an EIA "Environmental Impact Assessment" of the industrial zone expansion. The Natura 2000 strategies could be used as a reference.

4. EU Water and Marine Policy, European Commission Marine Strategy Framework Directive - European Policy

This marine directive framework was the first EU legislation that aimed at the protection of the marine life and the natural resources and creating a framework for the sustainable use of marine waters. The EU coastal and marine policy is trying to protect the waters from the several and complex issues that the marine waters is facing. Pollution from sources on land and in ocean is causing a lot of pressure on the coastal zones. There have been many attempts in trying to protect the marine and coastal environments through the EU legislation which has been implemented in many areas, like for example the Common Fisheries Policy or the Water Framework Directive.

This directive’s main goal is to achieve the Good Environmental Status (GES) of Europe’s waters by 2020. The protection of the waters is important as it is the base of which marine-related economic and social activities depend on. The directive’s aim of biodiversity maintenance shows its containment on how it affects human activities and in return have an impact on the marine environment.

The marine directive establishes the European region and sub regions based on the geographical and environmental criteria and it lists four main regions: The Baltic sea, the North-East Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. In order to reach the GES by 2020, the member states are required to develop a marine strategy, and because the directive follows an adaptive management approach, the strategies must be kept up to date and reviewed every 6 years.

5. UN HABITAT, International Guidelines on Urban and Regional Planning - International Policy

"Due to the rapidly world changing and the growing in urban population which has reached 3.96 billion in 2015,In response to that transformation, the International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning (the Guidelines) are intended to be a framework for improving global policies, plans, designs and implementation processes, which will lead to more compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities and territories that foster sustainable urban development and are resilient to climate change."

"The goals of the Guidelines are:

  • To develop a universally applicable reference framework to guide urban policy reforms.
  • To capture universal principles from national and local experience that could support the development of diverse planning approaches adapted to different contexts and scales.
  • To complement and link to other international guidelines aimed at fostering sustainable urban development.
  • To raise the urban and territorial dimensions of the development agendas of national, regional and local governments."

"The Guidelines should be used through the multiscale continuum of spatial planning:

  • At supranational and transboundary level.
  • At national level.
  • At city-region and metropolitan level.
  • At city and municipal level.
  • At neighbourhood level."

6. United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals - International Policy

The 17 sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development which will be applied universally over the next 15 years seeks mainly to stir the efforts to end all forms of poverty and tackle climate change. Goals Numbers 13, 14 and 15 according to our case study could be used as references, with a main focus on number 14 which is The Life Below Water goal since it includes the climate change, coastlines and on how to conserve and sustainably use the seas and marine resources which is the main focus of our case study.

A.4 References






6. Aqaba Ecotourism Development Plan, (2008).[PDF file]









15.ASEZA MASTERPLAN 2001-2020, (2002).[PDF file]

16. Aqaba Translocation Project Plan, (2012). [PDF file]

Phase B: Landscape Evaluation and Assessment

B.1 Assessment Strategy

The goals and purpose of this landscape assessment are to gather, understand and synthesize the current environment and surroundings of the Gulf of Aqaba in order to develop a strategy that will enhance its reputation, conserve its biodiversity and promote its tourism.

Through examining and mapping themes related to ecosystem services with a focus on the Cultural and Recreational Services, land use development, the current and the future expansion and land use change, and finally, the last theme will be assessing Aqaba's proximity to neighboring foreign gulfs especially the Gulf of Eilat which is a huge threat to Tourism and Biodiversity. These Themes are directly related to the DPSIR which we have developed as part of our Analysis and will help us in defining goals and targets that will be used in the planning and design process.

B.2 Mapping

B.3 Problem definition and priority setting

B.4 Theory reflection

The assessment and evaluation method used in this section was the Ecosystem Services Method. And for this, we have mapped themes related to ecosystem services with a focus on the Cultural Services (Recreation), land use development, the current and the future expansion and land use change, and Aqaba's proximity to neighboring foreign gulfs especially the Gulf of Eilat which is considered a threat to the Tourism industry and the Biodiversity. This assessment method combined with a SWOT, which we have prepared for our own to assess the threats and the opportunities of the land-use change and development, has deepened our understanding of the ecosystem services associated within the study area. In the problem definition, we added a problems/ potentials table, to mitigate the risks and provide sustainable solutions to the problems that could be confronted. These two combined methods will help us further in making benefit of this method to provide sustainable added-value to the current management approaches applied in the study area.

The limitations encountered during this phase were:

1. The lack of the available online resources, mainly related to political situations between the two Gulfs; Aqaba and Eilat.

2. The understanding of the Private Public Partnership (PPP) in Aqaba, which has been negatively affecting the law enactment and enforcement that mainly deals with the EIA of the projects, because of the common interest between the private and the public sectors.

B.5 References

Phase C – Strategy and Master Plan

C.1 Goal Setting

Based on the Evaluation and the Assessment we have developed a set of Local Goals that are meant to Enhance Aqaba's Reputation, Promote its Tourism and Conserve its biodiversity, which deals with the Recreational Ecosystem services provided by the shoreline of Aqaba. Based on this, we derived a set of Objectives that are;

1. Replenishing the concept of the public beach.

2. Establishing bike routes and shuttle bus services to promote archaeological tourism.

3. Promoting social, cultural and environmental interaction nodes in a safe environment.

4. Signing treaties with the neighboring countries to conserve the endangered coral reefs.

The linkage with the SDG is very clear, especially with SDG goal numbers 1,8,11,14,15 and 17, and are described in the image below.

C.2 Spatial Strategy and Transect

C.3 From Theory of Change to Implementation

C.4 References

D. Process Reflection

  • Water was the driver for this project, and the pressing need of people being next to it gives them a great role into deciding what should be designed and where. We have come to a conclusion that those three factors shown in the diagram are a never ending chase. The more communities tend to be involved, the more the dilemmas of the development kinds and their locations, the more the pressure on the coast and the sea. The right people should be in the right place. Public access to the coast is the right of the citizens. A barrier-free access is a right to all, which diminishes the role of these industrial and commercial developments.