Somalia has 3300 km of coastline, of which 1300 km face the Gulf of Aden from Raas Caseyr to the border with Djibouti, and the balance faces the Indian Ocean (Fig. 1
). The western part of the north coast between Saylac and Berbera is shallow with exposed, high energy sandy beaches. The central portion between Berbera and Bosaso consists of mainly shallow, sandy shorelines, rarely broken by protruding rocky outcrops and cliffs which may extend into the shallow water. In the eastern part between Bosaso and Raas Caseyr high mountains reach the sea.
The area is characterised by rocky shores with steep cliffs, often interspersed by short segments of narrow sandy beaches. The northern coastline is relatively straight and consists mainly of beaches. Small rocky promontories occur only in a few localities. A raised fossilised seabed backs most of the beaches. There are no perennial rivers along the northern coast of Somalia. Freshwater reaches the coast only during irregular flash floods following torrential rains. The surface run-off from land has no significant influence on the marine environment. Most nearshore subtidal areas are shallow with sandy substrate, occasionally interspersed by fields of cobbles or boulders and by rocky outcrops. Steep rocky cliffs usually continue as shallow sand areas under the water surface. Coral growth is limited, partly by a lack of suitable substrates and partly by hydrographic conditions. Occasional coral growth has been observed in the eastern and western part of the coastline. Extensive coral reefs, possibly the largest ones of the entire Gulf of Aden, occur in the vicinity of Saad ad-Din Island. Smaller coral reef areas exist west of Xabo and between Buruc and Bosaso.
The continental shelf rarely exceeds 15 km in width, except for the extreme north-western section near the border with Djibouti where it is much wider. There are only two groups of islands along the Gulf of Aden shore of Somalia: The Saad ad-Din group near Saylac consists of six small, low-lying, exposed islands with sandy beaches, while Jasiired Maydh in the central part near Raas Khatib is a steep-faced rock with little over 1.5 km length and an average high of 100 m.
The climate is arid with an average annual rainfall of less than 300 mm. Seasonal variation is mainly influenced by the monsoon winds, which also determine the coastal currents. From May to August, the south-west monsoon drives a strong current from the level of Socotra to the east. It influences the water masses in the Gulf of Aden, where the main current direction is eastward during this period. Along the north-eastern coast there is a counter current that flows westward, fed by north-easterly flowing waters passing between Socotra Island and the mainland into the Gulf of Aden. From October to March, during the north-east monsoon, waters flow from the Arabian Sea into the Gulf of Aden. The main current direction along the Somali coast is westward, but in the north-east there is a counter current that flows east. During the south-west monsoon there are upwellings of cold water in the north-east which are rich in nutrients, but generally low in oxygen. These upwellings generate phyto- and zooplankton blooms. They break down during the north-east monsoon when the water in the area is warmer, less nutrient rich and saturated with oxygen (Swallow 1991
). Nutrient levels are largely determined by variable current patterns and annual fluctuations in upwelling intensity. In terms of primary productivity, the area is thought to fall in a transition zone between the richly productive water to the north-east and the East African shelf environment to the west.
Along the Gulf of Aden coast three areas have been proposed for protection. The Daloh Forest Rese, which lies to the north of Erigavo, Maydh Island, which lies adjacent to Daloh Forest Reserve and Aibat, Saad ad-Din and Saba Wanak, two islands and an adjacent stretch of coastline near Saylac. This area has the largest mangrove stands and coral reefs along the Gulf of Aden coast of Somalia.
The largest town along the Gulf of Aden coast is Berbera. Other larger settlements along the coast are Saylac, Laas Qoray, Qandala, Xabo and Caluula. Despite rich living marine resources, fisheries account for only 2% of the GDP (FAO 1995). Other marine based activities are even less important.
Somalia is presently suffering from a civil strife which broke out in 1988 and resulted in a collapse of the central government and a breakdown of the national economy. In January 1991, inter-clan conflict in the north-west resulted in the displacement of an estimated 100,000 people, many of whom were skilled. In May 1991, former British Somaliland declared itself independent and a government was installed, but the "Republic of Somaliland", which controls the western part of the coastline, is not recognised internationally. The Somali people in collaboration with the international community are facing the challenging task of rehabilitation and reconstruction.