Jordan's only outlet to the sea, Aqaba is backed by purple-tinted mountains that are rich in phosphates. Beyond are the rose-coloured deserts of Wadi Rum.
Beneath the clean, crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, is a unique marine environment, where divers can discover Jordan’s amazing underwater wildlife. Brightly-coloured corals, sponges and sea fans are home to millions of reef fish and a range of invertebrates. Even the world's largest fish, the Whale Shark, visits these nutrient-rich waters. These harmless, gentle giants come to dine on the rich plankton harvests that flourish in the area. Other visitors include turtles, dolphins and sea cows.
Jordan is a great destination for bird-lovers, its remarkable variety of habitats, from rugged mountains and evergreen woodlands to scrubby steppe and hot dry deserts provide perfect environments for many species of indigenous birds. Furthermore, its location at the crossroad of Europe, Asia and Africa means that migrating birds from these three continents can sometimes be seen together in the same general area within Jordan.
A total of 17 sites have been declared as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Jordan’s national parks. RSCN’s nature reserves are also IBAs. Five of the IBA sites are fully protected by law, five are partially protected, and two further have been officially proposed for legal protection.
Great efforts are being made to ensure the protection of the Red Sea marine life, particularly from the impact of tourism. Derelict ships and military vehicles have been sunk in some cases to create artificial reefs. These wrecks provide permanent places for corals to grow and offer marine life a safe refuge to set up residency, not to mention some exciting diving for non-aquatic visitors. The Aqaba Marine Science Station showcases the marine life of the Gulf of Aqaba and the many steps that are being taken to protect it.
The green areas of Aqaba, particularly the relatively dense vegetation and open ponds at the waste water treatment plant, attract hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of migratory birds every spring and autumn comprised of more than 350 different species. Migratory birds flying from Europe to Africa in autumn visit suitable habitats in the region to make final preparations for the long journey across the Sahara desert. In the spring, migrants tend to land at any suitable habitat in the region, Aqaba being the first station they encounter after a long journey over the deserts of North Africa.
The Jordanian Society for Sustainable Development (JSSD) began the establishment of protected areas in Aqaba, in cooperation with the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and the Aqaba Water Company. The Aqaba Bird Observatory is responsible for the monitoring and protection of the birds, and the JSSD set up a centre for visitors and a research centre at the Observatory.
A Visitors' Centre was constructed with an education room to implement the educational and awareness programs. The observatory has a research facility that will be used as a research centre.
Walking trails in the observatory will lead to the bird's hide, the major spot for watching birds. In addition, the observatory includes a nature garden that educates visitors about the native plants found in the Aqaba area and will support resident birds that depend on such habitats.