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August 3, 2022 5:07 pm
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Coral Reefs in Eilat Haven’t Recovered From Extreme 2020 Storm, ‘Worrying’ Report Finds

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Coral reef in Eilat. Photo: Dror Zurel/Environmental Protection Ministry

Coral reefs in the Gulf of Eilat are still struggling to recover from the effects of a powerful winter storm that hit the southern Israeli city in 2020, the government warned in a report published Wednesday.

During the unusually harsh storm in March 2020, waves broke large coral colonies in the Red Sea and sand was deposited on top of them, causing significant damage. In total, between six to 20 percent of coral cover on the reef was lost, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s latest national monitoring report, carried out with the Inter-University Institute for Marine Sciences.

The reefs in the Gulf of Eilat, also known as the Gulf of Aqaba, have so far failed to recover from the storm, while an additional reduction of five percent of coral cover has been recorded, the report found. It also pointed out that construction activities along the shore of Eilat, a port and tourist hub, make reef restoration more difficult.

In addition, an increase in deep water temperature was recorded in the survey. Surface water temperatures have also been rising by an average of 0.045 degrees Celsius annually since 1988 — a rate significantly higher than the global average recorded by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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The findings “present a worrying picture that points to the deterioration of the already sensitive ecosystem of the Gulf of Eilat,” the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

Coral reefs are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and are essential to many kinds of marine life, but have been significantly degraded worldwide amid rising ocean temperatures, pollution, and overfishing. While reefs in the Gulf of Eilat are considered relatively resistant to the effects of warming waters, they remain vulnerable to extreme weather.

The report also recorded a 50 percent decrease in the local sea urchin population relative to 2019. Their disappearance is relevant to the reefs, which the urchins typically clean from algae that competes with the corals for space. Additionally, seaweed at a depth of some 10 meters (33 feet) was no longer observed. “The disappearance of the seaweed at this depth is a fatal injury to the habitat for young fish and invertebrates,” the Ministry said.

Tamar Zandberg, a member of the left-wing Meretz party and minister of environmental protection, called for greater national involvement in protecting the Gulf.

“These findings reinforce the need to continue adopting the ‘zero additional risk to the Gulf of Eilat’ policy outlined by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as reducing human pressure at the local level,” added Zandberg, referring to a policy that has recently drawn heat for scuttling a lucrative oil deal between Israel’s state-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Co. and the Dubai-based MED-RED Land Bridge.

The deal, announced after the Abraham accords, would have seen Eilat receive Gulf tankers carrying oil that would be then transported overland to the Mediterranean Sea and, from there, via tankers to Europe.

“We blocked the entry of dozens of oil tankers into the Gulf of Eilat,” Zandberg said at the time. “The State of Israel and the Gulf of Eilat will not become a bridge to oil pollution in an era of climate crisis.”

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