After almost a decade, a team of international experts on Thursday revealed the results of their painstaking work to preserve the tomb of Egypt’s legendary Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Nearly a victim of his own fame, long years of mass tourism had left their mark on the boy king’s burial place near Luxor on the east bank of the Nile River.
“A hundred years of visits, after being sealed for 3,000 years… can you imagine the impact on the grave?” said Neville Agnew, head of the project led by the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute.
“Visitors, humidity, dust…” lamented the scientist during the unveiling ceremony at the tomb, discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings.
Called to the rescue in 2009, Agnew has led a 25-member team — including archaeologists, architects, engineers and microbiologists — to preserve the tomb and fend off the ravages of time and tourism.
Interrupted during Egypt’s 2011 uprising and the political instability that followed, the project later resumed its work and finished up this month.
The preservation work began with a comprehensive study of the funeral chamber, including its ornate golden-yellow murals, which had been blanketed over the decades by a grey veil of dust.
Lori Wong, a curator specialising in murals, specifically looked into the “material composition of the paintings and how it was applied”.
The goal in doing so was “to understand the current state of the paintings, to determine if they were in danger and to establish a plan to safeguard them for the future”, she told AFP.
Scientists brought heavy duty microscopes into the royal tomb, which they refer to as KV62, to analyse mysterious “brown spots” found on its ancient artwork.
- ‘Think of the future’ –
Researchers had worried the spots were a fungus that might spread and damage the murals of Tutankhamun’s life.
Careful analysis showed the blotches were indeed of microbiological origin, but the organisms were long dead.
One problem still remained: the deeply embedded marks were impossible to remove.
“We did conservation, not restoration,” said Agnew, adding that the mission had been to stabilise and protect the site.
“The brown spots are also part of the story,” he said, adding they had not developed since Carter’s discovery.
Architects worked to redesign the platform where visitors stand to keep them away from the fragile walls, and engineers developed a new ventilation system to limit the devastating effects of carbon dioxide, moisture and dust.
While some of the most cherished pieces of Tutankamun’s treasure are now held at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the tomb still holds the Pharaoh’s mummy in an oxygenless glass box, along with his outer sarcophagus — made of gilded wood.
Famed Egyptian archaeologist and former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass, who initiated the project, said that the project had “saved the tomb of Tutankhamun”.
“Still I really think after this great work that has been done, we need to limit the number of tourists who enter inside,” he added.
“If we let mass tourism enter this tomb, it will not last more than 500 years,” he warned, advocating for a complete halt of visits to site.
Tourists could instead visit a replica built nearby, he added.
“We have to think of the future from now. In 500 or 1000 years if we leave the tourist situation like this, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings will be completely finished.”
Namibia plans to auction wild animals to raise money for conservation
An agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather
Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals – including elephants and giraffes – to generate $1.1 million for conservation.
“Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management,” environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.
The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the country estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.
“The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation,” Muyunda said.
In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.
Namibia’s cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.
They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus — all from national parks.
The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.
The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.
The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.
Seaweeds – a growing threat to Lagos’ waterways
The spread of the invasive species of fast-growing plant is damaging transport links in Nigeria’s economic capital
Traffic jams on the snarled up roads of Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos are legendary, but a growing problem is also clogging up the waterways of Africa’s biggest city — water hyacinths.
The spread of the invasive species of fast-growing plant is damaging transport links in Nigeria’s economic capital, built on a lagoon dotted with islands.
With waterways covered and silting up, the aquatic weed is also threatening fishing jobs and a vital food source.
“This is all I can get since morning,” said fisherman Solomon Omoyajowo, showing a handful of fish in a bowl in his wooden canoe.
The 45-year-old fisherman has already been forced to move his nets from one part of the Ogun river too thick with weeds, to a new area nearer the sea.
“Many fishermen have abandoned their boats, while some of us who still want to continue, now try our luck here,” he told AFP, using his palms to wipe a stream of sweat from his face.
“Water hyacinths are killing the fish in the river,” said another nearby fisherman, Adisa, as he cast his net into the river.
When he hauled it up, he had caught only four small fish.
“I don’t think I can do any other job apart from fishing,” Adisa said. “I will continue to manage until the government comes to our aid to clear the weeds.”
Jobs at risk
Originally from South America, the plant has caused chaos across several countries in Africa. Earlier this year, a thick green carpet of the weed choked up Kenya’s main entry to Lake Victoria, the largest body of water in Africa.
It was first noted in Nigeria in the early 1980s, in the Badagry creeks west of Lagos, reportedly spreading from neighbouring Benin.
Since then, mats of weeds have spread to rivers across the country, including Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger delta.
Fishermen say the weed is so thick it creates a dense cover that makes it difficult for fishing boats to navigate the river.
It is having a damaging impact.
One study, from Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University, estimated it put at risk one-third of Nigeria’s local fish supply, a cheap source of food millions rely on.
That threatens to put thousands of fishermen out of a job.
“It has become a menace to the marine ecosystems of Lagos,” said Nkechi Ajayi, spokeswoman from Lagos State Waterways Authority, adding that it impacted “the socio-economic activities” of river communities.
Water transportation is also at risk. Operators complain of damaged boats and risk of accidents.
“We often find it difficult to navigate whenever the weeds clog the river,” said boat driver John Ibikunle, as he waited to pick passengers on Lagos Island.
He said many commuters, who once preferred water transport to beat the perennial Lagos traffic gridlock, are returning to the roads, tired of being stuck on water with weeds snagging the propeller.
“They cause mechanical problems to the propulsion system of boats,” added Ajayi, from the waterways authority.
The plant doesn’t grow well in salt water, and environmental experts say the plant expands during the rainy season when the level of fresh water rises in Lagos lagoon.
“It is a seasonal plant,” said Noah Shemede, an environmental activist, from the vast area of wooden homes on stilts built into the water, a fishing settlement called Makoko.
“In the Makoko community for instance, its impact is felt when the rain is heavy and the salt level is lower,” Shemede said.
‘Underwater lawn mower’
Lagos State Waterways Authority chief Abisola Kamson said they have brought in two water hyacinth removal machines to clear the weeds.
“The machines act like an underwater lawn mower,” Kamson said. “It cuts the vegetation, collecting and storing the weeds and debris on board.”
But while fishermen and boat operators struggle with the weed, one local entrepreneur sees a business opportunity.
Achenyo Idachaba set up a firm that processes the weed into handwoven products including baskets and bags.
“The weeds are harvested from water channels and spread out in the sun to dry,” Idachaba said. “They are processed into small ropes, required to weave the products together.”
Some see a brighter future.
Scientists at the University of Lagos said the plants could also be converted into energy as biomass production, to help solve part of Nigeria’s chronic electricity shortages.
Egypt’s rebounding tourism threatens Red Sea corals
Egypt’s rebounding tourism sector threatens the fragile marine ecosystem.
In serene turquoise waters off Egypt’s Red Sea coast, scuba divers ease among delicate pink jellyfish and admire coral – yet a rebounding tourism sector threatens the fragile marine ecosystem.
The Red Sea is a top scuba diving destination, but Egypt’s tourism sector was buffeted by a wave of security shocks through much of this decade, before a partial recovery since 2017.
A diving instructor in the town of Hurghada, a top resort, warned that the rebound brought dangers for the corals.
Before the decline in visitors “there was way too much activity because it was so cheap” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
“In some areas, they’ve disappeared — although in others we see they’re coming back”.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says coral reefs are among “the most beautiful, biologically diverse and delicate ecosystems in the world”.
It describes these resources as vital to maintaining food supply and protecting the shorelines of low-lying island nations.
Along the seafront in the town of Hurghada, bazaars and resorts offer unbeatable prices to attract budget-conscious European visitors to a country whose vital tourism sector was battered by a 2011 uprising and multiple jihadist attacks.
Following the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, tourist arrivals in Egypt plunged.
The sector took a further beating in 2015, when jihadists blew up a Russian plane that took off from another major Red Sea resort, Sharm al-Sheikh, killing 224 people.
But the contribution of Egypt’s tourism sector to GDP rose 16.5 percent last year to $29.6 billion (26.5 billion euros), the highest level since 2010, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Egypt has not published its own official statistics for the year.
German tourist Daniel, 29, said he was partly attracted to Egypt by the low prices.
“It’s a lot cheaper than the Caribbean,” he said as he tanned his pale skin on a private beach in Hurghada.
Flippers on their feet and air tanks on their backs, the mostly European tourists swim in tranquil waters just off Hurghada.
Ten metres below the surface, clown and butterfly fish swim among green and purple corals.
It’s “very beautiful,” said an Estonian tourist as she clambered back onto the boat, her blond wet hair protruding from her black wetsuit.
UNEP estimates that about 20 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed and a further 60 per cent are under threat — from climate change, overfishing and tourism.
Many people who live close to reefs depend on them for a living, and Egypt’s resort towns are no exception.
Scientists consider the Red Sea’s reefs the most climate change-resilient corals but say they are still under threat.
“The revival of tourism in Egypt is a good thing, but it has increased pressure” on the reefs, said Heba Shawky, managing director of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association.
The campaign group was founded in 1992 by diving professionals who were worried about the potential impact of mass tourism in the region.
Around 1,700 tourist boats operate along Egypt’s Red Sea coast, according to the Red Sea province, while the Suez Canal Authority says 18,174 commercial vessels passed through the Suez Canal last year.
Shawky said the NGO has set up around 1,200 buoys on various dive sites to prevent the use of anchors, which damage corals.
But, she added, much remains to be done — such as reducing the number and size of dive boats, which can be up to 50 metres (55 yards) long.
“It’s about limiting the number of users per day to tackle the problem of the growing number of boats,” Shawky said.
General Ahmed Abdallah, governor of Egypt’s Red Sea province, agreed.
“We are making every effort to preserve the marine environment and stop any pollution affecting the reefs,” he commented.
Abdallah pointed to the absence of highly polluting industries such as steel, cement or ceramics production in the region.
He also noted the province’s recent decision to ban single-use plastics, which are highly damaging to marine life.
With up to 12 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every year, the UNEP believes marine plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.
“We are making a lot of effort, but we need to do more,” said Mahmoud Hanafy, a professor in marine biology at Suez Canal University and an advisor to Shawky’s association.
He urged authorities to declare some reefs protected sites to prevent them being “over-exploited”.
He also suggested following the lead of Australia and the Maldives by creating artificial reefs, sometimes with 3D printing, to ease the pressure on natural corals.
Shawky contended that there is no contradiction between protecting the environment and supporting tourism.
Unlike other parts of Egypt, “we don’t have pyramids or temples,” she said.
“We have living resources under water. So by preserving the environment, we support the tourism industry.”
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