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British travel industry joins forces to seek swift government decision regarding Sharm El Sheikh

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Sharm El Sheikh

More than 30 travel businesses representing  hundreds of thousands of British travellers have attended a meeting with the all-party parliamentary group on Egypt in the House of Commons and House of Lords to explain the very negative impact that the current flight ban to Sharm El Sheikh is having on their businesses and to seek support for a swift government decision.

The travel businesses attending included airlines, tour operators, hoteliers and Nile cruise companies which have now joined forces to create the Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group working with the Egyptian Tourist Office in London. Group members will meet regularly to build travel and government relations and include Monarch Group, Egyptair, Discover Egypt,  Egyptian Experience, Fleetway Holidays, Sharm Direct, Holiday Designers, Scuba Travel, Orbital Travel, The Holiday Place, Travel Republic, Soliman Travel, Holiday Gems, Saga Holidays, Cyplon Holidays, Cox & Kings Travel, Oonas Divers, Expedia, Noble Caledonia, Kuoni/Voyages Jules Verne, Mosaic Holidays and Red Sea Holidays.

Members of the new Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group told parliamentarians and Lords that the nearly year-long ban on flights to Sharm El Sheik is having a serious impact on their businesses. One operator said he was now selling as much in one year as he used to sell in a week to the destination. Others expressed frustration that British businesses are being penalised compared to the German and other European companies which are now able to fly back into Sharm el Sheikh. The delegation explained that Foreign and Commonwealth Advice has affected the entire country’s reputation because travellers are confused about whether they can travel to Egypt and where they can go. The meeting also highlighted that uncertainty of when the ban will be changed is causing concern because airlines have to plan their schedules at least four months before departure. If a decision on the flight ban is not taken in the next two weeks many airlines will miss the opportunity to return to Sharm el Sheikh for winter 2016/17.

Lord Stone welcomed the travel industry group and introduced the meeting by describing how representatives of the all-party parliamentary group had recently visited Sharm El Sheikh and found the resort to be both peaceful and welcoming. Lord Stone then confirmed he has written to the UK government requesting them to fix a date for the lifting of the ban.

Sir Gerald Howarth MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Egypt also commented on the large contingent attending the meeting and said this was clearly a sign of the pressure facing the travel industry. He advised  travel companies to speak up about the impact the ban was having on their businesses, to write to their local MPs and to communicate clearly what needs to be done. Sir Gerald Howarth told the UK group of travel companies that, during his three visits to Egypt this year he’d met representatives of the Department for Transport who had told him that they felt that the conditions had been met to enable flights to resume. Sir Gerald Howarth has written to Prime Minister Theresa May asking for a swift decision on the matter.

Lord Stone has asked the government what arrangements have been made to assess the impact of the ban on British travel businesses.

Prior to the meeting at the House of Lords, travel industry delegates attended a private briefing at the residence of H.E. Ambassador Nasser Kamel. He explained that Egypt has worked closely with British aviation security experts from the Department of Transport to implement a joint action plan to upgrade security in all Egypt airports. The leading British security firm Control Risks has assessed security measures and made recommendations which have been fully implemented by the Egyptian government. Leading security firms have been appointed to deliver an aviation security programme which includes recruiting and training up to 7000 staff at airports across Egypt. These firms are also advising Egypt’s leading private security firm, Falcon Group International, who have been tasked by the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation to provide long-term, sustainable, high-level security at all Egyptian airports. In addition the Egyptian government has independently allocated USD $26 million to enhance and improve airport security. H.E. Ambassador Kamel  said: “The safety and security of our citizens and visitors is paramount”.

Mr Khaled Fouda, Governor of South Sinai who welcome the parliamentary group and showed them all the upgrades and facilities in Sharm El Sheikh airport advised: “we believe we have done everything possible and more to deliver world class and secure airports. While Germany has taken a decision to resume flights on the basis of that work, the British government still hasn’t. We have to ask the British government to be clear and let us know if more needs to be done, or to lift the ban in line with the rest of Europe.”

Mr Samir Takla, advisor to the all-party parliamentary group on Egypt said: “We appreciate the input of the British travel industry in this discussion.  It is clear that it is now time for there to be a swift decision from the British government for the commencement of the flights.”

Rasha Azaizi, Director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office in London, said: “This long term ban on flights to Sharm El Sheikh is now affecting many UK travel businesses as well as airlines and  is causing deep consumer confusion. The Foreign and Commonwealth advice is currently that it is safe to visit Sharm El Sheikh but not to go through the airport. That’s given people the impression that they can’t visit Egypt when in fact British Airways, Easyjet, Thomas Cook, Thomson and Egyptair are all already operating direct flights to other airports in Egypt. For example a new direct flight from Heathrow to Luxor was launched just earlier this month. No other country apart from Russia still has a flight ban on flights to Sharm El Sheikh, but the UK government has still not yet made a decision. We have been led to understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department of Transport are all now happy with the measures put in place following stringent security reviews. We truly feel it’s time for the British government to make a decision before the crucial winter holiday season.”

The Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group will be holding regular meetings to discuss how the industry can work cooperatively together to present their case to parliament and to share insight and guidance on supporting the recovery of tourism to Egypt.

Which airlines are currently flying to Egypt from the UK?

Airlines flying from the UK to Egypt as at 3 October 2016 include Egyptair, British Airways (Heathrow to Cairo), Easyjet (Gatwick to Hurgarda) Thomson (Gatwick to Marsa Alam and Manchester to Hurgarda) Thomas Cook Airlines (Gatwick and Manchester to Hurgarda)Egyptair launched a weekly direct flight between Heathrow and Luxor on Monday 3rd October 2016.

What is the current FCO Advice about travel to Egypt?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice about travel to Egypt is that: “The tourist areas along the Nile river (including Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Valley of the Kings) and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada aren’t included in the areas to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel.” www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt

Other countries have lifted a ban on flights

The German government lifted its ban earlier this year and direct flights between Germany and Sharm El Sheikh resumed this autumn. In September 2016 Turkish Airlines recommenced flights from Istanbul Atatrk airport to Sharm El Sheikh airport after an 11-month suspension. In addition, 11 fights from Italy to Sharm El Sheikh are scheduled to take place in October. This is in addition to the flights from other European and GCC countries.

How many British travellers are affected?

870,000 British travellers visited Egypt in 2015. Visitors in 2016 are down by more than 70%.

The peak of UK travellers to Egypt was in 2010 with more than 1.5 million UK visitors.

What is the All Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt?

The purpose of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt is to strengthen relations between British and Egyptian parliamentarians and promote British-Egyptian relations among both chambers of the UK Parliament. The APPG consists of forty seven MPs and Peers.

The meeting with the British travel industry was held on Wednesday 19th October 2016.

What is the Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group?

The Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group is made up of tour operators, airlines, travel agents and short and long Nile cruise companies who are working together to communicate travel industry views to government, to support any requirement for safety and security for British travellers and to support the recovery of tourism to Egypt.

To find out more about diving in the Red Sea, visit www.gotoegypt.org.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot

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Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to MantaMatcher.org – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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