For decades, 40,000 litres per day of toxic effluent have been knowingly released from an oil terminal on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, endangering a super-hardy coral species that may contain the key to climate-proofing the rest of the world’s coral.
Even as world leaders gather in at COP 27 Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss climate action, the Ras Shukeir oil terminal is discharging the equivalent of 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools ‘worth of heavy metal-laden effluent every day into a coral-rich portion of the Red Sea, reports BBC Arabic. The terminal is currently co-owned by Egypt’s state oil company, the Egyptian General Petroleum Company, and the UAE’s Dragon Oil.
And this coral is special, a rare “super” species that scientists say could hold the key to helping the rest of the world’s corals survive global heating. The Red Sea coral are “of enormous importance to the international community,” oceanographer Sylvia Earle told the BBC, explaining that it may be possible to rehabilitate reefs elsewhere in the world using transplants from the Red Sea.
The Gulf of Suez Petroleum Company (GUPCO), co-owner with BP of the terminal back in 2019, was aware that the heavy metal-laden effluent was not compliant with Egyptian environmental laws, according to confidential documents leaked to BBC Arabic and non-profit Source Material. GUPCO appears to have been seeking a company to treat the wastewater that was being dumped nearly raw.
The documents further show that “Egypt’s government has known about the wastewater problem since at least 2019,” BBC says, after BP sold its share in the plant to Dragon Oil.
“The sale by BP was part of a decision to dispose of company assets worth £$10 billion (£8 billion at the time), seen by many commentators as a plan to help it meet climate targets,” the UK broadcaster writes.
“It comes as no surprise that BP and others would rather sell on their dirtiest, most environmentally destructive assets, than clean them up themselves,” said UK Greens MP Caroline Lucas.
Referring questions about the effluent plume to GUPCO, BP denied that its climate targets were in any way involved in the decision to sell its stake in the Ras Shukeir terminal.
Galvanizing efforts to protect the region’s “super-coral,” found on the Great Fringing Reef, is its notable resilience in the face of global heating that is in the process of wiping out its less-hardy kin on reefs all over the world.
Both domestic and international experts are urging the Egyptian government to extend a marine protection zone to include the waters around Ras Shukeir, and all of the Great Fringing Reef.
“NGOs expected the extension to be announced by the environment ministry of Egypt at COP 27,” BBC wrote November 16. “But so far no announcement has been made.”