“Worrying” coral decay in the Red Sea: the monitor warns of construction, rising water temperature

The reef off the southern Israeli port city of Eilat has failed to regenerate and has even degraded after a winter storm two years ago, according to a government report released Wednesday that said the results were ” worrying “.

Stormy weather in March 2020 led to the loss of 6-22% of coral cover in the bay and, since then, the reef has suffered a further 5% loss of marine invertebrates as of 2021, Israel said. National Monitoring Program in the Gulf of Eilat.

The monitor recommended minimizing local development and construction to reduce the stress already faced by the reef from climate change.

“There is fear of further damage to nature from construction activities on the beaches, works that make rehabilitation of the reef even more difficult,” the report warned.

“Another troubling trend observed in the report is the continued rise in deep water temperature recorded in previous surveys,” the report said, adding that the rise in surface level temperatures at a rate of 0.045, two and a half times higher than the increase estimated by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – could also have a negative impact on corals.

The resilience of the Red Sea corals has long fascinated scientists, as well as divers and snorkelers.


An image of the coral reef in Eilat Bay. (Ministry of Environmental Protection / Dror Tzural)

In 1995-2008, waste from multiple fish farming “cages” caused extensive damage to coral in the Red Sea, but in response to petitions from environmental and diving groups, the structures were removed and the coral recovered. despite other coral reefs around the world dying from rising ocean temperatures.

However, the increase in human activity has scientists worried.

The report also noted a severe decline in the area’s ecosystem, noting a 50% decrease in the number of sea urchins since 2019.

“Sea urchins have an important role in cleaning the reef from algae that compete with corals for reef settlement sites,” notes the report.

Additionally, algae were not found below 10 meters in the water, which the monitor said could impact the food supply of juvenile fish and invertebrates.


An image of the coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat. (Ministry of Environmental Protection / Dror Tzural)

Dror Tzurel, a member of the executive committee of the monitoring program, said he was concerned about the lack of deep mixing in the sea, a process in which “the upper water cools in winter and sinks, and the deep water, where the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) have accumulated, they rise to the surface ”.

According to the report, 2021 was the ninth year that the natural phenomenon did not occur, leading to an accumulation of nutrients and posing significant challenges to coral reef recovery. The process should take place every three to four years.

When the process finally occurred in winter 2022, the long run without the phenomenon “led to algae blooms, high turbidity and sticky foam on the water surface from May to July,” which causes difficulties in coral photosynthesis. , Tzurel said.

Noga Kronfeld-Schor, chief scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and chair of the monitoring committee, explained that the report found that Israel’s activities were a driver of the challenges faced by the Red Sea, as well as the impact of climate change. .

“This is a sensitive and important ecosystem and we must do everything we can to prevent it from continuing to damage it,” he said.

Environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg called the results “worrying” and called for “greater involvement of government ministries in protecting the bay in the face of threats, many of which are local.”


On May 23, 2022, Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg participates in a discussion on violence in Arab society. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Zanberg added that the Eilat development “ignores environmental considerations in a way that cannot be considered reasonable” and called for the works to be carried out in “a more sensible way”.

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