Israeli Scientists Join Colleagues From Sudan, Saudi Arabia to Save Red Sea Corals

The new center located in Bern, Switzerland, will study the Red Sea corals’ resistance to both global and local threats

The coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat
Prof. Maoz Fine / Bar-Ilan University

Israeli researchers have joined a cooperative regional venture aimed at saving the corals in the Red Sea.

The venture will be led by a research center that recently opened in the Swiss city of Bern. It will be staffed by researchers from all the countries bordering the Red Sea, including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Since some of the countries involved have no diplomatic relations with Israel, the cooperative research will be conducted via a neutral mediator, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, known by its French initials EPFL.

The coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat
Prof. Maoz Fine / Bar-Ilan University

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The Israeli team will be led by Prof. Maoz Fine of Bar-Ilan University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat. Other cooperating institutes include the University of Jordan’s faculty of marine sciences in Aqaba.

The new center will study the Red Sea corals’ resistance to both global and local threats. It will have specialists in a variety of fields, including oceanography, biology, genetics, ecology and geology.

The coral reef in the Gulf of Eilat
Prof. Maoz Fine / Bar-Ilan University

Corals worldwide have been endangered by global warming, pollution, illegal fishing and changes in the sea. The center will therefore study the effects of variables such as agriculture, urbanization, illegal fishing and industrial waste on Red Sea corals.

So far, corals in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba have proven resistant to climate change, even as corals elsewhere in the world are disappearing.

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A paper published recently in the Journal of Experimental Biology found that these corals and their offspring have been able to withstand rising sea temperatures. The study was conducted by Fine’s laboratory at Bar-Ilan in conjunction with researchers from EPFL.

What this means is that the world might have a reserve of healthy corals that could serve to replenish dying coral stocks in other places that haven’t proved resistant to climate change.

The new center was established because despite the high resistance shown by Red Sea corals, they still face many threats due to human activity. One is Saudi Arabia’s plan to build a huge new city on the Red Sea coast opposite the Sinai Peninsula.

That plan calls for an urban area sprawling over 450 kilometers, which would create an enormous amount of waste and require infrastructure such as desalination plants. All this could pose a much more serious threat to the corals than they have faced hitherto.

“The new center is supposed to assist in research activity and monitoring of the corals’ situation,” Fine said. “The Swiss will help collect data from the different countries and assess its quality. In addition, the center will publish invitations to do research. We hope this coordination and cooperation will help deal with the threats.”

Dr. Anders Meibom of EPFL also highlighted the project’s political dimension. “Try to imagine a ship flying a Swiss flag sailing on the Red Sea, with scientific workers and visitors from all the countries of the region, and also other countries worldwide,” he said. “And all this is happening despite the complex political situation on shore.”