2014 at HaMaarag: How Healthy is the Mediterranean Sea?

צוללן בניטור בים התיכון

How do pollution, overfishing and other pressures affect the state of nature in the Mediterranean Sea?

And what is the state of biodiversity in the Mediterranean Sea in general?

These questions were dealt with this year from two perspectives: the Ocean Health Index for Israel and the Marine Biodiversity Assessment Program for the Mediterranean Sea, the central marine programs of HaMaarag for 2014.

The Marine Biodiversity Assessment Program for the Mediterranean Sea commenced in 2014, due to large knowledge gaps that were exposed by the ‘State of Nature in the Mediterranean Sea’ 2013 Report. The program is the result of a partnership between HaMaarag and the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa. It acts under the management of Dr. Aviad Scheinin, the Mediterranean Sea Coordinator at HaMaarag, and the scientific management of Dr. Dan Tchernov, Director of the Department of Marine Biology at the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa.

The program was built with the aim of characterizing the state of nature in the Mediterranean Sea, which finds itself under a wide range of pressures, such as industrial pollutants, increasing salinity, overfishing, habitat destruction and more. The program involves technical diving at three locations – inside and outside of the Achziv Nature Reserve and at Sdot Yam. The purpose of comparing between the nature reserve and waters outside of it is to determine whether the ban on fishing has had a significant effect. Conclusions – at the end of 2015.

Biodiversity is surprisingly high, and received a score of 90 out of 100 on the Ocean Health Index for Israel, another of HaMaarag's marine projects, that was launched in September this year. The Index is the Israeli and Mediterranean Sea version of the World Ocean Health Index that assesses our uses of the ocean and their sustainability. We note that this is a worldwide precedent, since the Israeli Index is the first local version of a world index that was not calculated by its developers. The adaptation of the Index for Israel was led by HaMaarag, under the leadership of Dr. Anat Tsemel and Dr. Aviad Scheinin, working closely with NCEAS, who developed the international index, and with Conservation International. Uses of the ocean were adapted for Israel, and each one received a score according to its current state with respect to the target, while accounting for pressures and sources of strength.

Similar to Biodiversity, Clean Waters was surprisingly high with a score of 97, as was Coastal Livelihoods and Economies, which received a score of 100. In contrast, Fish Catch received a score of only 12, and Marine Aquaculture surpassed it by only 5 points with a score of 17, proof of inadequate fisheries management and the existence of overfishing, coupled with Israel's lack of action with regards to marine aquaculture. Also, the positive score that Israel received for species diversity should be viewed from a broader perspective: habitats on the soft sea bed and the sandy coast received a score of only 61, and conservation of flagship species – species with emotional and cultural value – also received a mediocre score of 63. These low scores provide evidence for the damage caused by trawlers that scrape the sea bed with their thick nets. The full list of scores and descriptions of how they were calculated may be found here.

In April we will set up internet access to the Ocean Health Index, and the monitoring program will continue and will also include settlement tiles for algae and water sampling. You are welcome to keep up-to-date continuously via HaMaarag's Facebook page and to enjoy videos filmed by Hagai Nativ during the technical dives, on the Youtube channel of HaMaarag.