Israel is blessed with the world’s northernmost coral reef and one of its most beautiful. But the report published Sunday by the Environmental Protection Ministry paints a worrisome picture of the threats facing the reef, some of which stem from climate change and some from the authorities’ mistaken policies over the years. Israel must wake up in order to prevent serious harm to one of its most important natural treasures.
Studies carried out in recent years have shown that reef corals in Eilat have exceptional resistance – relative to similar reefs around the world – to bleaching, a disease that affects most of the world’s corals. This reassuring information created the sense that the reef in Eilat is immune to the climate crisis. But the ministry’s latest survey details a series of serious threats to this natural gem.
In March 2020, there was an exceptionally harsh storm in the Gulf of Eilat, apparently exacerbated by the climate crisis. The storm caused extensive damage to the corals. In 2017, a heat wave caused a massive die-off of fish. Also threatening the reef is an increase in the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water due to a change in current patterns that is presumably related to global warming.
In addition, an underwater robot that surveyed the seabed of the gulf found alarming amounts of debris, from disposable tableware to lounge chairs that were swept into the Red Sea during the March storm: 350,000 items per square kilometer, 1,000 times the amount found on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. In 2020, the first skeletal deformities of tiny animals were discovered. These distortions indicate the difficulty the ecosystem is having in adapting to changes in water composition, like an increase in water acidity due to the dissolving of carbon dioxide.
Healthy ecosystems are the first line of defense against the climate crisis. The first step in protecting ecosystems is preventing new threats. The reef in Eilat is not only the northernmost in the world; it is also the only one in the world near a large port through which fertilizers, oil and hazardous materials are transported. Any mishap could cause an ecological disaster for sea life and an economic disaster for Eilat. All this highlights the blatant irresponsibility of the agreement signed by the government’s Europe-Asia Pipeline Company with the United Arab Emirates, which is supposed to bring eight times more oil traffic into the Gulf of Eilat.
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The government must cancel this agreement, which is in any case linked to the fossil-fuel economy, which must be eliminated. What’s more, government ministries must prepare a careful and comprehensive plan to protect the Gulf of Eilat.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.