The Red Sea is particularly biodiverse, hosting high levels of endemism and numerous populations whose extinction risk is heightened by their relative isolation. Elasmobranchs and sea turtles have likely suffered recent declines in this region, although data on their distribution and biology are severely lacking, especially on the eastern side of the basin in Saudi Arabian waters. Here, we present sightings of elasmobranchs and sea turtles across the north-eastern Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba collected through a combination of survey methods. Over 455 survey hours, we recorded 407 sightings belonging to 26 elasmobranch species and two sea turtle species, more than 75% of which are of conservation concern. We identified 4 species of rays and 9 species of sharks not previously recorded in Saudi Arabia and report a range extension for the pink whipray (Himantura fai) and the round ribbontail ray (Taeniurops meyeni) into the Gulf of Aqaba. High density of sightings of conservation significance, including green and hawksbill sea turtles and halavi guitarfish were recorded in bay systems along the eastern Gulf of Aqaba and the Saudi Arabian coastline bordering the north-eastern Red Sea, and many carcharhinid species were encountered at offshore seamounts in the region. Our findings provide new insights into the distribution patterns of megafaunal assemblages over smaller spatial scales in the region, and facilitate future research and conservation efforts, amidst ongoing, large-scale coastal developments in the north-eastern Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba.
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