This weekend I learnt of the sad passing of my old friend and former colleague Amr Ali.
The conservation and diving community are a poorer place for the tragic loss of Amr but ever richer for his ceaseless endeavours to protect the marine life, environment and people of the Red Sea.
It is difficult to sum up everything that Amr meant in words. It’s a cliché but Amr was a true giant amongst men in terms of personality, reputation and, of course, stature. To spend a few minutes in his company was to become intoxicated by his passion, his ideals and his wicked sense of humour. His bear hugs were legendary and almost made you black out. His caustic wit was well used to render his friends speechless with laughter and his adversaries, simply speechless. Amr was truly charismatic.
In the public world, as the Managing Director of HEPCA – Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association – Amr was a true visionary and environmental warrior. He and his team were responsible for a number of outstanding projects.
Most famous of all is HEPCA’s pioneering mooring operation, which started in 1992 as a community initiative to protect the Red Sea reefs and became the largest mooring system in the world. Amr’s drive was responsible for this project being rolled out not just throughout the Egyptian Red Sea but also Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Under Amr’s leadership, HEPCA also triumphed in the battle to save Giftun Island from development, secured a decree to ban shark fishing, helped create sustainable conservation programs to protect dolphins at Samadai and dugongs and turtles at Abu Dabab, spearheaded a campaign to ban dolphinariums in the Red Sea, introduced and managed a solid waste collection, disposal and recycling strategy for the city of Hurghada and the southern Red Sea, initiated community development projects for the local Bedouin people, led numerous scientific research projects, educated thousands of children, tourists, workers and Red Sea residents and so much more.
It’s fair to say that with Amr at the helm, HEPCA grew from a small-scale organisation to one with an international profile; the leading NGO in marine and environmental conservation in Egypt, and a model and inspiration for similar organisations worldwide.
Amr himself was an inspiration. His passing leaves a huge hole in the Red Sea and wider community but his legacy must be the continuation of his life and work by all those he inspired and mentored. In that way, the absolute greatness of Amr Ali lives on.
“I am a free spirit and I shall not be tamed.” – Amr Ali
To find out more about the work of HEPCA, visit www.hepca.org.