Invasive species threaten Mediterranean through Suez Canal

09 March, 16:38

    The Suez canal The Suez canal

    (by Chiara Spegni).

    (ANSAmed) - BRUSSELS - The international scientific community is struggling to save the Mediterranean from the invasion of hundreds of new tropical marine species. The doubling of the main entrance route, the Suez Canal, will be completed soon, but no environmental impact assessment for its consequences on the Mediterranean Sea has yet been conducted. ''What we are asking for is a transparent and scientifically valid environmental impact assessment, followed by an analysis of the risk involved as well as of monitoring and control measures,'' said Bella Galil, a senior scientist with Israel's National Institute of Oceanography and promoter of the a letter-appeal signed by over 450 scientists from 39 countries. ''Among them,'' Galil said, ''there are at least about one hundred Italians, from Trieste to Palermo'', all aware of the potential environmental disaster in the making. ''We are not against works to expand the canal, but the Mediterranean is a sea that we must take care of,'' the expert said, noting that a serious environmental impact assessment ''requires a period of between six and twelve months'', with an assessment gathering the data of all countries in the area. It would thus require much more time than the reassurances from Cairo would make it seem.
    ''Egypt has informed the European Commission that the assessment is underway and that it should be ready by May, with an initial analysis in March,'' said Enrico Brivio, spokesman for Karmenu Vella, the European commissioner in charge of the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.
    Brussels, in alert on the issue, is in constant contact with Cairo and has offered ''broad technical assistance'' to Egyptian authorities. Other sources confirm that an assessment by Egyptians in underway, but ''until last month it did not include the issue of invasive species''. Official sources say that a recent seminar in the Egyptian capital dealt with the need for more research and argued that the harmful species that have invaded the Mediterranean (such as the lethal pufferfish) are ''very few'' compared with those that produce revenue, such as the mackerel and barracuda. Researchers presented a plan for monitoring and reconnaissance of possible solutions to minimize the number of 'migrant' fish, while the national oceanographic institute has presented its own monitoring plan. The latest data from the European Environmental Agency (EEA), in partnership with the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR), confirm that the Suez Canal is the main source of 'non-indigenous' species for the Mediterranean, specially since the 1990s after its expansion.
    Taking into consideration all European seas, there are an estimated 1,416 'foreign marine species. Along the Israeli coast alone (only 180 kilometers long), there are now 335, including 94 that arrived after the year 2000. (ANSAmed).

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