Friday, March 6, 2015

Egyptian Folly: The Environmental Impact of the Suez Canal


The issue of invasive species becomes more prevalent as the world economy continues to globalize. From cane toads and rabbits in Australia, the Spanish slug in Europe, to Burmese pythons and snakeheads in the US, invasive species can have a devastating effect on local ecosystems. This is especially acute in the already interconnected system of the world’s oceans. The Mediterranean Sea is particularly susceptible to this problem because of how isolated it is; this isolation breeds specialization, and when a foreign species is introduced it can outcompete the natives, prey on them, or prey on their eggs or young. This disruption of an ecosystem’s food web can have far-reaching consequences at all trophic levels.  

This worries researchers in light of a new plan from the Egyptian government to expand the Suez Canal. They want to widen and deepen the canal to allow for a higher volume of boat traffic to move more quickly, but this would also make it easier for species from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to make their way to the Mediterranean. Whereas many invasive fish species are deposited from the ballast tanks of ships or simply cling to their bottom, this would enhance a direct route between two separate ocean environments in an area where invasive species are already running rampant. Supporters of the project cite a massive economic growth potential, but the Egyptian government seeming to move forward on these plans very rapidly without any kind of environmental oversight begs the question of whether these economic benefits outweigh the ecological costs.

It seems like the Egyptian government is not doing nearly enough to make sure this plan is environmentally viable and sustainable. The article states that the European Union is closely monitoring the progress, but in reality if Egypt isn’t in the EU they don’t have a whole lot of control over any of it. It brings up the environmental impact assessment done for the Panama Canal and mentions a system of locks or a saltwater barrier system that could prevent some migration but it still seems woefully lacking. Hopefully they’ll take the necessary precautions and this won’t turn into a catalyst for the death of the Mediterranean ecosystem.  

- Ian Mallor , B

6 comments:

  1. I just took an introductory ecology course here at UMass and we spent about 2 weeks discussing how devastating invasive species can be on an ecosystem. Your concerns here are completely correct, and I am sure Egypt isn't taking this issue into full consideration. Great post, more people should be reminded of issuets like these!
    -Posted by Ashley Condon

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  2. I agree, the ecological cost of this canal could be devastating for the Mediterranean ecosystem. Unfortunately, the Egyptian government probably won't take the ecological concerns too seriously because of their recent political turmoil.
    -Posted by Daniel Bonkowski

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  3. This is a great post. I've learnt a lot about invasive species from your post. It's true that a formation of a new species in a certain ecosystem will lead to an increase in diversity. However, after reading your post and this article, I realize how harmful invasive species can be to a native ecosystem. There are two questions that I have for you: 1. Do you think this invasive species can somehow adapt to its new living condition through any evolution processes in a way that it will become a native species and have neutral effects on the ecosystem? 2. Do you think the event of an invasive species is introduced to a whole new ecosystem can be related to the Founder effects?
    -Posted by Phi Duong

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    1. Great questions! I think what makes invasive species so dangerous is that in order for them to successfully take hold in an ecosystem they have to displace another organism or organisms from the existing food web. As to whether it is related to the Founder effect, I think in this case since the canal serves as a constant highway to and from the new ecosystem this is not an example; there must be isolation from the mother population in order for there to be Founder effect.
      - Ian

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  4. Really interesting article! It's always tough when ecology gets mixed up in commerce, and I fear that the Egyptian government isn't going to take the steps necessary to make sure this change won't result in any irreversible damage, as ecology is probably the last thing on their mind at the current moment.
    ~David Almanzar

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    1. As sad as it is, the environment usually takes a back seat to problems of government and politics when they arise. In this case maybe it would be wise for them to halt the project until they can dedicate the proper resources and attention.

      - Ian

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