Silence on the Suez

Egypt is abuzz with Suez fever. On Thursday, world leaders will visit, pop singers will perform, and the world’s largest flag spanning twelve kilometers will be unfurled during inauguration celebrations for the New Suez Canal.

Thirty-five kilometers of new channels have been dug parallel to the old, and existing channels have been dredged to accommodate larger ships travelling between Asia and Europe. Ship wait time will decrease by eight hours. Annual revenues are projected to increase from $1.5 to $4 billion. And the ambitious project was completed in just one year.

But in contrast to the fanfare over the completed construction, the impact of the project on the ocean’s ecosystems has gone nearly unnoticed.

The Suez Canal has no locks or other barriers, and the height of the Red Sea is slightly higher than the Mediterranean on its opposite side. Water flows downhill and Red Sea water moves freely through the canal, carrying Red Sea organisms with it.

Originally the Suez Canal passed through a section of very salty water, the Bitter Lakes, which are thought to have acted as a barrier to organisms passing from one sea to another. But the cross-sectional area of the canal was quadrupled in 1956 and again in 2010. As more water flushed through the Bitter Lakes, they became less salty. That barrier is now gone.

In the Suez Canal’s first fifty years, ten Red Sea species traveled to the Mediterranean. In its second fifty years, the number increased nearly ten-fold. Today, the number of Red Sea species in the Mediterranean is 447, the majority migrated in the last forty years as the Canal became wider, deeper, and less salty.

Some Red Sea species have had adapted well to their new Mediterranean home. Prior to —> Read More