Creating sustainable tourism at the Samadai Dolphin House in Egypt

José Martins
Published: 03 June 2016
Last edited: 29 September 2021
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Spurred by the need of ensuring the sustainability of tourist visits in Samadai, the local government decided to deny access to the reef until a management plan was in place and enforced. Science-based management actions, including zoning and structuring of visits, were adopted on the basis of precaution, tourism was reorganised without eliminating it as a source of income, and the spinner dolphin resting habitat was maintained.


North Africa
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Access and benefit sharing
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction


Red Sea | Egypt


Uncontrolled visits, including by swimmers, into the dolphins’ resting habitat had skyrocketed towards the end of 2003. Dolphins exhibited clear signs of discomfort, and there was a real risk that the dolphins might eventually abandon the area.


  • Spinner dolphins using Samadai as a resting area;
  • locals gaining economic benefits and Red Sea Protectorates (economic revenues deriving from entry fees);
  • tourists

How do the building blocks interact?

The interaction amongst the building blocks was straightforward. The first demonstrated that Egypt was committed to protect marine charismatic species in its waters and went through the correct steps to address the issue. The second achieved the involvement of the stakeholder despite the authoritarian approach of the nation’s governance. In the end the effort was very successful and played to the advantage of both dolphins and the local economies, since it can be supposed that in the absence of management the dolphins might have abandoned their habitual resting area, which is expected to be a strong candidate for an Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) in the Red Sea region.


  1. The establishment and correct management of the Samadai Dolphin House has demonstrated to locals that protected areas not only can coexist but also even enhance local economies; and
  2. A modest entry fee, impacting minimally on the tourist’s day-trip package cost, is accruing significantly to the budget of the region’s Red Sea Protectorates, paying also the stipends of rangers employed in adjacent protected areas.


In Sept. 2003, at the Durban IUCN World Parks Congress, I was approached by Dr. Moustafa Fouda, head of Egypt Nature Conservation Service, asking for advice concerning the management of the Samadai Dolphin House. I expressed my availability to help. Three months later I was in Samadai, and could verify in person that a) the reef clearly contained spinner dolphin habitat that today would clearly be considered an Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) under more than one criteria; b) the reef was a beautiful, yet vulnerable, marine site where people could have close encounters with these dolphins; and c) the then Red Sea Governor was determined to do all that was possible to succeed. By the time I arrived, access to the reef had already been forbidden, and by being viewed by the local stakeholders as a conduit to a possible solution (and resumption of their business) my task was facilitated. My main problem was that no data existed: nothing on the extent of the dolphins’ use of the area (for example: how large would the minimal possible resting area have to be and how many swimmers’ visits could the dolphins tolerate? There were also few data on the swimmers. In the end a simple, provisional and precautionary management plan was drafted including zoning, setting upper limits for daily visitors and people in the water, and the use of a code of conduct. This was immediately adopted by the Governor, and in January 2004 Samadai was reopened to visits. In that same month I held a training course for the rangers, instructing them on how to collect minimal data on the dolphins’ and the tourists’ daily presence in the reef. Two years of such data allowed me to issue recommendations on how to improve management and change the management plan from provisional to final, but that never happened. Management could definitely improve today, although the original plan is still workable; however, Egyptian authorities have neglected to modify it on the basis of my recommendations. With such a good example of effective governance, the absence of a similar approach in the nearby locations of Fanous Reef near Hurghada, and Sattaya Reef near Hamata leaves me totally puzzled. Both of these areas are expected to qualify as candidate IMMAs, respectively, for resting Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and resting spinner dolphins, both heavily impacted by poor quality, irresponsible tourism (Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara).

Contributed by

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Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara IUCN SSC/WCPA Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force

Other contributors

Tethys Research Institute, IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force