Under the mediation of a neutral third-party, Israel will partner with neighboring Red Sea countries – including Saudi Arabia and Sudan – to establish a research center for the study, monitoring and protection of coral reef ecosystems.
The Red Sea Transnational Research Center in the Swiss city of Bern – initiated by Prof. Maoz Fine of Bar-Ilan University’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences – will include partners from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti. Facilitating partnerships between stakeholders without diplomatic relations, the center will be led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).
Coral reefs, a critically important home to millions of marine species, are threatened and dying as a result of global climate change and more local factors, including pollution, over-fishing and physical destruction. Recent studies have shown that coral reefs in the Red Sea are extremely resistant to stress induced by global warming and rising seawater temperatures.
Researchers have demonstrated that Red Sea corals, including in the Gulf of Aqaba, are the most likely to survive due to their evolution in geological and environmental settings that are unique to the region since the Ice Age. The corals are still threatened, however, by fish-farming, agricultural run-off, industrial and urban waste discharge, and future seawater desalination activities.
According to the researchers, however, these threats can best be overcome through knowledge-sharing, and regional coordination through the establishment of the Red Sea Transnational Research Center. The center was inaugurated in March by Ignazio Cassis, head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
“The relatively narrow sea is surrounded by countries and people who are directly dependent on the well-being of the coral reefs,” said Fine. “At the same time, the proximity of urban areas and tourism to the reef may inflict damage to it if we aren’t wise enough to coordinate our actions when using this asset. Our lab at Bar-Ilan University and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat is focused on understanding resilience, and how local disturbances adversely affect this unique resilience to global change.”
The center will bring together scientists from each country from a wide range of disciplines, including oceanography, biology, genetics, ecology, geology, nature conservancy, and civil and environmental engineering.
It aims to monitor and protect Red Sea coral reefs by studying their health and biodiversity, and researching the impact of human activity along the shores of the Red Sea, such as agriculture, urbanization, coastal infrastructure, fishing and industrialization. The findings will supply policy makers with scientific analyses for decision-making regarding societal development and environmental protection.
New monitoring stations will be established under the initiative, in addition to making use of existing research infrastructures, including the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat and Jordan’s Marine Science Station in the Gulf of Aqaba.