Eilat marine lab struggles to recover from blaze

Blaze at the National Center for Mariculture destroys 20 years of research.

Eilat marine lab 88 (photo credit: )
Eilat marine lab 88
(photo credit: )
Scientists from an Eilat marine research laboratory are trying to recoup their losses from a recent fire that destroyed 20 years of research. The blaze on November 14 at the National Center for Mariculture (NCM), part of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR) complex in Eilat, not only killed precious marine life but also left its scientists devastated. Researchers from the neighboring Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat (IUI) are trying to help their colleagues recover. The two institutes are carrying out work with important implications for Israel's future in nature conservation, marine biotechnology aquaculture and for understanding processes such as climate change. Beverly Goodman, a coastal geologist from the Hebrew University who works at the IUI in Eilat, said that after five of the six labs at the NCM were destroyed, the IUI invited researchers working at the devastated center to bring any remaining material to their institute down the street. Dan Tschernov from the IUI said that "the fire had skipped over their minus-70-degree refrigerators that contains all of their genetic material. I suggested that we transfer the material to our labs. We could cram ourselves together and they could continue their molecular work." Tschernov, who is a marine molecular biologist from the Hebrew University, said that losing this material would be a disservice to mankind. "This is not theoretical research - it is about fish - commercial fish and being able to breed them in captivity. There is material on tuna, the DNA of groupers and grey mullets," explained Tschernov, who investigates global warming and ocean acidification, as well as the molecular mechanisms that lead to coral death. "Almost 16 percent of all coral cover in the world is already dead," Tschernov said. "It is very important to know whether this is unique and occurring now because we are burning fossil fuels. Science needs the proof." After the blaze, the short-term research climate has changed significantly in Eilat, and Goodman sees the positive side of the disaster. "We want to work with the NCM and it would be nice to work together more. There is a bit of competition, but it is only friendly competition over basic resources and finances," she said. She concluded that outside donations are badly needed at the two research centers to improve their infrastructure and to put Israel on the map as one of the world's greatest marine research hubs. The full story appears in today's Metro section (included with the newspaper outside Jerusalem) and at jpost.com at the local Israel section.