Coral reefs have been discovered deep off Israel’s Mediterranean coast by a team
of Haifa University researchers who spent the last two-and-a-half weeks on the
Nautilus ship owned by Robert Ballard, the discoverer in 1985 of shipwrecked
ocean liner Titanic.
The Nautilus carried robot diving equipment that
reached as far as two kilometers under the surface.
voyage to study the Mediterranean Sea floor off the coast ventured out beyond
the Israel’s territorial waters to areas where Israel still has rights. The
scientists were from the university’s Leon Charney School of Marine
The captain of the Mediterranean mission was Israel Prize
winner and director of the Charney School, Prof. Zvi
“It was like finding Ein Gedi in the middle of the desert,”
Dr. Yitzhak Makovsky, who headed the project’s control center, said this
“We never expected to find coral reefs of such proportions there.
We didn’t expect it or even dream of it,” he added.
The most significant
findings were corals covering several kilometers, 700 meters below the surface
and 30 to 40 kilometers off the coast of Tel Aviv.
The undersea area was
always thought to be lacking in living creatures, especially corals, said
The findings are also important because coral colonies develop
very slowly. Thus specimens brought back to be studied in the University of
Haifa’s labs could serve as a “tape recorder” of biological changes on the
seabed in the area over the last several hundred years, he said.
must urgently be declared a “natural undersea preserve” to protect it, as is
done for coral reefs around the world, Makovsky declared. As the survey took
only about 18 days and was preliminary, it should be followed by longer and more
intensive investigations of the seabed, he continued.
The Nautilus crew
also discovered two shipwrecks, apparently modern fishing boats several dozens
of years old, that lie on the seabed. Fish and lobsters found living in and on
them were photographed hundreds of meters under the surface of the water in
their natural surroundings.
One of the fish found there was the chimera
monstrosa, a species that separated from the shark family some 400 million years
ago. The team also discovered a small lobster, about 10 centimeters long, that
was hiding in a crevice in a rock and thus was difficult to identify, but it was
photographed for the first time at such depths and will be studied, thanks to
the Nautilus robots.