Scientists & environmentalists warn of the ‘diverse range of effects, at local & regional scales’ of Egyptian President’s ambitious project.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s “new Suez Canal” project might help Egypt’s battered economy but environmentalists are now warning of the ecological consequences of the ambitious plan.
Last August Sisi announced the launching of a new waterway, which would run parallel to the original Suez Canal built 145 years ago.
The cost of the project, which would be funded by Egyptian and foreign investors, is estimated at $4 billion. It aims to speed up traffic along the existing waterway and create one million jobs.
Dubbed the Suez Canal Axis, the new 72-kilometer (45 miles) project would run part of the way alongside the existing canal that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. It will involve 37 kilometers of dry digging and 35 kilometers of expansion and deepening of the existing Suez Canal, which will help to speed up the movement of vessels.
The artificial waterway which connects the Mediterranean and Red Sea is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency revenue, along with tourism and remittances from Egyptian expatriates.
But financial benefits aside, human intervention in nature always comes at a price.
18 scientists, specializing in marine ecosystems, have published last week a warning in the journal Biological Invasions, saying the new canal “is sure to have a diverse range of effects, at local and regional scales, on both the biological diversity and the ecosystem goods and services of the Mediterranean Sea,” Israeli daily Haaretz reported Monday.
Describing the project as “ominous news,” the scientists, among them Prof. Bella S. Galil from the National Institute of Oceanography, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research in Haifa, stated in the letter that, “Of nearly 700 multicellular non-indigenous species currently recognized from the Mediterranean Sea, fully half were introduced through the Suez Canal since 1869.”
Meaning, foreign species invaded the Mediterranean after the original canal was constructed and those species “adversely affect the conservation status of particular species and critical habitats, as well as the structure and function of ecosystems and the availability of natural resources. Some species are noxious, poisonous, or venomous and pose clear threats to human health.”
The scientists are concerned this phenomenon would only grow after the new canal starts operating.
“While global trade and shipping are vital to society, the existing international agreements also recognize the urgent need for sustainable practices that minimize unwanted impacts and long-term consequences. It is not too late for the signatories to the ‘Barcelona Convention’ and the Convention on Biological Diversity to honor their obligations and urge a regionally supervised, far-reaching ‘environmental impact assessment’ (including innovative risk management options) that would curtail, if not prevent, an entirely new twenty-first century wave of invasions through a next-generation Suez Canal,” the scientists said.
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