17 October 2017 07:35 AM

Ecological impact of the Suez Canal Development Project

Thursday، 26 February 2015 12:00 AM

The National Institute for Oceanography Sciences and Fisheries on Wednesday, 25/2/2015 held a workshop under the rubric "The Ecological Impact of the Suez Canal Development Project". The symposium is aimed at discussing the issue of movement of migrant species between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and the possible ecological impact that would result from the development of the waterway.

The seminar is also aimed at exploring the best means and ways in dealing with the possible ecological impact that would result from expanding the water course of the canal and outlining an integrated ecological plan for environmental monitoring programs in the Suez Canal.

The symposium was attended by several major Egyptian scientists from universities and research centers along with other departments concerned. The researchers offered studies and presentations about the effect of the Suez Canal development project on the movement of organisms, such as fish, from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and presented scientific answers to articles that were published addressing this issue. The researchers also proposed a blueprint for ecological monitoring that is aimed at studying the impact of the movement of maritime species between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean along with integrated programs for ecological monitoring at the Suez Canal.

The participants concluded that:

·        The Suez Canal has been established in 1869 according to an international will. The international community has also supported Egypt in the process of clearing, expanding and dredging the canal after the 1973 war. Also the current project is not creating a new waterway. Rather, it is an upgrading of the already existing project.

·        The current proposed project is invested with paramount importance given the fact that it will cut short the time of transit through the canal and consequently save fuel. This will actually help ease up the crisis of energy. Also, gas emissions that are affecting the atmosphere will also decrease to a great extent annually thanks to the increase in the number of ships and vessels passing through the canal after its upgrading which means saving time that could be spent if these ships would use the Cape of Good Hope Route.

·        Climate change has helped to a great extent these organisms to move easily given the fact that this change will lead to increasing the temperature of the sea water and consequently increasing the sea water level; leading by turn to a change in the coastal environment and its impact on maritime organisms.

·        Human activities and pressures on the maritime environment are of the most major factors that help the spread of alien species and facilitate a process of invasion either in the environments that are subject to strong human pressures or the environments that are ever-changing and unstable by their nature. An example of this is the case of biological invasion in Venice Lake, the Black Sea and western Mediterranean. These environments are relatively far from the impact of migrant organisms from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal.

·        Being haste in judgment regarding migrant organisms without conducting thorough studies is not feasible. It is also difficult to pass a judgment that all migrant organisms would expel the indigenous species from their original places to different deep levels given the fact that there are no previous studies that would tell us if there are any indigenous species in these areas in the first place or not. Nobody could answer this question without detailed studies.

·        The possibility of expansion of the impact to the region at large is weak as reviewing published research papers indicated that migrant organisms to the Mediterranean are located in two areas; namely; (southeast which is relatively affected by the migration through the Suez Canal and the northern and western areas that are affected by the migration resulting from fish farms and ballast water that are carried by ships and would contain organisms that were carried from their indigenous environments) along with migration from the Atlantic via Gibraltar Strait. This is why there is no possibility that the project would affect the whole region.

·        The number of species that invaded the Mediterranean from the Red Sea and caused harm are very few if compared to other species that invaded and settled there and had at the same time economic benefits. Also, there is no one clear evidence that one of these species that have migrated from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean had caused any direct economic harm to any of the eastern Mediterranean countries. Reports about the spread in the Mediterranean of jellyfish coming from the Red Sea have no substantial scientific evidence.

·        Biological mobility is not necessarily harmful as several kinds of fish that migrated from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean have a great economic benefit and large number of them are trawled and constitute a great economic revenue for the area's population such as Mackerel with up to 1,200 tons per year being fished in 2007 against 550 tons in 2000. Also, quantities of potato fish that are trawled have increased from 600 tons to 1,146 tons annually and several other examples are available. Also, migrant species that traveled and settled with high economic revenue include Japanese shrimp, red shrimp, Suez shrimp, blue crab and barracuda.

·        Researchers presented the workshop with a proposal for a national project to follow up monitoring the migrant species and defining the best ways to minimize the number of migrant species.

·       The participants urged conducting studies for ecological evaluation regarding the development projects in line with the priorities of implementing these projects. They also appreciated the Suez Canal Authority for entrusting an international consultant house to conduct a study of strategic evaluation of the project.

·       The National Institute for Oceanography Sciences and Fisheries has presented an integrated plan for an ecological monitoring program in the Suez Canal explaining that the program is undertaken in cooperation between the Institute and the Ministry of Environment and departments concerned.

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