Thursday, August 27, 2015

The opening of the New Suez Canal

by Enrique Macpherson

The New Suez Canal was opened on August 6th 2015. The ecological impact can be catastrophic...

In September 2014, one month after the enlargement of the Suez Canal was announced, eighteen scientists published an article in the journal Biological Invasions highlighting the threat of invasive species and calling the expansion “ominous.” The article asked for compliance with United Nations treaties that have jurisdiction over environmental issues in the Mediterranean, and to which Egypt is a signatory.

Lophocladia lallemanii is an invasive red algae species from the Indo-Pacific, present in the Mediterranean Sea. It completely overgrows macroalgal communities and seagrass Posidonia oceanica meadows.

By December, two hundred concerned scientists from twenty-five countries, began a letter writing campaign to environmental groups asking for help approaching authorities to request an environmental risk assessment of the Canal expansion. We wrote, “We recognize that global trade and shipping are vital to society, however, the existing international agreements also recognize the urgent need for sustainable practices that minimize unwanted impacts and long term consequences.”

A single Member of the European Parliament, Ricardo Serrão Santos of Portugal, introduced a statement about the canal on the floor of the Parliament. He said, "I would like to draw your attention to the enlargement of the Suez Canal. This process will increase marine pollution, including more alien species. The expected impact goes far beyond the proposing country and will have implications across the Mediterranean Sea, as indeed has the actual Suez Canal. For this reason I call for a proper environmental impact study that is holistic, comprehensive, deep, international and, more important, consequential." No further action was taken by the Parliament.

Siganus sp. are voraceous herbivorous fishes.
Of the dozens of environmental groups who received the letter, only the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) responded. They wrote to the Directorate-General of the European Commission suggesting mitigation measures and offering technical assistance. “Effective solutions do exist, for example the creation of an environmental barrier to biological invasions using naturally occurring highly saline Bitter Lakes (these lakes reduced the introduction of Red Sea species into the Mediterranean for many decades).” By February, the letter authored by the concerned scientists collected five hundred signatures from forty countries. Still, the international community remained mute.

No response ever came from any group charged with environmental oversight of the Mediterranean. No environmental risk assessment was ever performed. This willful myopia by the bodies whose mission is to protect the sea is putting the Mediterranean at grave risk.

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"توسيع قناة السويس يوسِّع غزو الكائنات البحرية للبحر المتوسط"
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Galil BS, F Boero, ML Campbell, JT Carlton, E Cook, S Fraschetti, S Gollasch, CL Hewitt, A Jelmert, E Macpherson, A Marchini, C McKenzie, D Minchin, A Occhipinti-Ambrogi, H Ojaveer, S Olenin, S Piraino, GM Ruiz. 2015. ‘Double trouble’: the expansion of the Suez Canal and marine bioinvasions in the Mediterranean Sea. Biological Invasions 17: 973-976.

Galil BS, F Boero, ML Campbell, JT Carlton, E Cook, S Fraschetti, S Gollasch, CL Hewitt, A Jelmert, E Macpherson, A Marchini, C McKenzie, D Minchin, A Occhipinti-Ambrogi, H Ojaveer, S Olenin, S Piraino, GM Ruiz. 2015. The Enlargement of the Suez Canal and Introduction of Non‐Indigenous Species to the Mediterranean Sea. Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 24: 41-43.