Israel’s underwater wonderland

Israel’s underwater wonderland

(Courtesy of University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research)
(Courtesy of University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research)

l Sunlight does not reach the Palmahim Slide, a rare geological formation deep in the Mediterranean Sea about 19 miles off the coast of Tel Aviv.

And yet unique creatures flourish in this pitch-black, 386-square-mile hilly habitat of coral gardens, methane seeps, brine pools, and other underwater wonders.

Formed in antiquity by a gradual landslide onto the seabed, the Palmahim Slide is a biodiversity hotspot where blackmouth catsharks breed and bluefin tuna spawn, according to international studies led in the past decade by Yizhaq Makovsky of the University of Haifa and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research.

Life is slow-paced down there. Without the photosynthesis of the sun, plant life is nourished by chemosynthesis — nutrients carried gradually deeper on streams of water starting from the surface of the sea.

In July, the Palmahim Slide (also called a Disturbance) became the first Israeli Hope Spot designated by Mission Blue, oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s organization dedicated to exploring and protecting significant marine areas. It is one of 144 Hope Spots Mission Blue deemed critical to the health of oceans and seas.

“The diversity discovered there is nothing like anything seen before in the southeastern Mediterranean Sea,” said Earle, who was the first female “aquanaut” on Jacques Cousteau’s legendary ocean explorations.

Earle urges Israeli policymakers to “follow in the Hope Spot’s steps in declaring 850 square kilometers of the Palmahim Slide as a no-take, give-back marine reserve large enough to protect the marine life that is there and allow no destructive activity in the reserve and its vicinity.”

Earle’s endorsement provides a spot of hope for marine projects coordinator Hadas Gann-Perkal and marine ecologist Ateret Shabtay of the marine program of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

Together with the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, Gann-Perkal and Shabtay have been advocating with Israeli and international authorities, such as the Italy-based General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, to declare most of the Palmahim Slide a protected area.

“Getting international recognition for the fact that this spot should be protected has already helped in our talks with the decisionmakers responsible for the marine environment,” Gann-Perkal says.

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