Go to main content

Stewarding rich marine ecosystems: A shared responsibility for Norway and Sudan

sudan forsker fisk

Sudan’s Red Sea coast is home to a diverse and well developed coral reef ecosystem. Capacity building in coral reef fish taxonomy is one important part of the cooperation. Pictured: Ahmed Mohamed Adam, UNIDO, Port Sudan.

Photo: Even Moland/IMR

For more than a decade, IMR researchers have been working closely with colleagues from partner institutions in Sudan with a particular focus on small scale fisheries.

This spring, four project participants from Sudan have visited Norway to attend a course at the University of Agder and receive supervision from colleagues at the Institute of Marine Reserach (IMR) in Flødevigen, Arendal. 

The students, which are staff members with IMR’s partner institutions in Port Sudan, Marine Fisheries Administration (MFA) and Red Sea University in Port Sudan, are conducting masters projects using data from the earlier project period of the Norwegian-Sudanese partnership. 

Havabbor på gulvet på fiskemarkedet i Port Sudan.
The majority of catches are traded at Sigala, the central fish market in Port Sudan. Valuable data on landings are sampled here on two days per week according to a randomized sampling calendar. Photo: Even Moland/IMR

Aiming for long-term sustainability 

The objectives are to build capacity in collection and analyses of landings data, to use data from the project’s own survey cruises and to provide management advice for harvested species – which to date mainly consist of coral reef fish species.

“Some primary target species have vulnerable populations and life histories that should be considered when designing management. Species that change sex from female to male at large body size are in particular need of attention. To date there are no minimum or maximum size limits that might contribute to lessen the impact of the fishery on reproduction and recruitment,” says Even Moland, acting as team leader for IMR in the Norwegian-Sudanese partnership.

“Coral reef fishes are functionally important, and maintaining robust populations contribute to ecosystem health. To safeguard this unique natural heritage, it is essential that Sudan succeeds in managing the development of its marine fisheries.” 

Coral reef in Sudan
Hard corals are animals building skeletons of calcium carbonate, but they are far from alone. Corals are considered «holobionts» consisting of the coral animal colony and a host of microorganisms such as algae, bacteria and virus. Algae living symbiotically in the coral polyp tissue are photosynthetic and crucial to health and survival of coral. Photo: Jörg Trnka/UNIDO

Building capacity and providing training at all levels 

Capacity building, training, and outreach are important elements in the project, involving managers at all levels, fishers, traders, and inhabitants of coastal villages. The project partners have teamed up with UK based IMA International to conduct a training and outreach program in line with principles known as the ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM). 

“Fishers have strong opinions on species they target. It is important to hear them out and dwell with their perspectives, which we can also learn from. It is my impression that they have a genuinely felt interest in contributing to long-term sustainability,” says Onisa Yahya. She is pursuing a masters project on interview-based ecosystem assessment.

Man being interviewed by a women, sitting down.
Interviews of experienced fishers represent an important source of information on the state of the ecosystem. Fishers possess local ecological knowledge (LEK) which can contribute to improved management. Photo: Onisa Yahya/MFA

“There are many reasons why people end up with fishing as their primary livelihood in Sudan. Many would have chosen differently if alternatives existed. We must take this into consideration when we give advice for the utilization and conservation of this unique ecosystem,” says Even Moland. 

Unique coral reefs

Sudan’s Red Sea coast is home to a diverse and well-developed coral reef ecosystem. This ecosystem is in relatively good condition, thanks to its favorable geographical location and a fishery that has avoided using the most destructive methods. 

“Tropical shallow water coral reefs are threatened by anthropogenic global warming, but Red Sea coral reefs might be in a unique situation,” explains Moland.

“The wide seasonal range in sea temperature and a dramatic geological history seem to have produced hard corals that are more robust than their conspecifics around equator. The Red Sea might act as a refugium for hard corals into a warmer and more variable future.” 

Diver in coral reef ecosystem.
The clear Red Sea water is suitable for visual census methodologies. Stereo video is used to record horizontal fish transects, and vertical benthic substrate transects. Photo: Even Moland/IMR

See more: IMR Global development 


Olsen, E., Axelsen, B.E., Moland, E., Utne-Palm, A.C., Elamin, E.M., Mukhtar, M.A. et al. 2021. Distribution and diversity of fish species along the Sudanese Red Sea coast based on three combined trap and gillnet surveys. Fish Res 242: 106032 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2021.106032

Abaker, K.Y.I., Ahmed, M.A.M., Augan, A.H.T., Elbashier, D.A.Y., Yahya, O.A.M., Nillos Kleiven, P.J., Moland, E. A vulnerable shallow water sand-dominated coral reef environment within a Sudanese Red Sea UNESCO world heritage site. In: Ormond, R. and Rogers, C (eds), 2022, Reef Encounter 51, Vol 37, No. 1, 82 pages. https://doi.org/10.53642/PLDR6830