A group of scientists headed by an Israeli woman, Dr. Bella Galil, says the project could do significant damage: ‘Thousands of species have already migrated from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.’

The Media Line 10.21.14

Egypt has begun digging to significantly expand the Suez Canal to enable a larger volume of shipping. The move has sparked protests from scientists who say it could devastate the marine ecosystem in the area.

“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel of a total length of 72 kilometres (44.74 miles),” Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told a recent news conference in Ismailia.

He said the $8 billion project will allow ships to travel in both directions for just over half of the 101-mile Suez Canal, and could increase the revenue for the country from $5 billion annually to $13 billion per year by 2023, a potential lifeline for cash-strapped Egypt.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he wanted to see the project finished within a year, rather than the original five-year timetable, and said the army would be in charge of carrying it out.

But a group of scientists headed by an Israeli woman, Dr. Bella Galil, said the project could do significant damage.

“This would shatter the remains of the ecosystem in the entire eastern Mediterranean,” Galil, from Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography, told The Media Line. “The Egyptians are not doing anything to prevent this, and it cannot be left at this stage.”

Galil is one of 18 scientists from 12 countries who published a letter in the journal Biological Invasions calling on the Egyptian government to take steps to minimize the ecological damage.

“We do not oppose enlarging the Suez Canal,” Galil said. “We understand that this is an economic necessity. But it should be done in a structured and correct way according to international norms and regulations.”

Thousands of species have already migrated from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, she said. Every summer, bathers from Israel to Syria to Turkey face a plague of jellyfish. Those jellyfish are just one of the species that came from the Red Sea.

“When there are jellyfish, tourists don’t go into the water, and fishermen don’t work because they don’t want to get nets full of jellyfish,” she said. “That means there are economic implications, and in some cases, negative health consequences as well.”

The scientists say that some of the species are “noxious, poisonous or venomous and pose clear threats to human health.”

Galil said the migration of species from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean has already affected the quality of fish in the Mediterranean Sea. While shrimp from the Red Sea are considered superior, many of the indigenous fish in the Mediterranean are being wiped out and replaced by fish that are cheaper and considered poorer quality.

The scientists urge Egypt to learn from the experience of the Panama Canal. There, engineers and scientists first conducted risk assessments. In the end they took measures to limit the entry of various species by flooding sections of the canal with high-salinity water that would kill off invasive species.

The scientists who signed the letter are from Italy, Spain, New Zealand, the US, Norway and the UK, along with Israel. They aid it is not too late to stop the environmental damage from the Egyptian expansion program.

“While global trade and shipping are vital to society, the existing international agreements also recognize the urgent need for sustainable practices that minimize unwanted impacts and long-term consequences,” the scientists wrote. “It is not too late for the signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity to honor their obligations and urge a

regionally supervised, far-reaching “environmental impact assessment” that would curtail, if not prevent, an entirely new 21st century wave of invasions through a next-generation Suez Canal.”

A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry told The Media Line he was looking into whether there have been any official contacts between Israel and Egypt over the issue.

Article written by Linda Gradstein

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line/