The eastern Mediterranean is a unique and complex ecological environment, providing a habitat to a wide range of animals. In addition, it provides many services to humans, such as food (fish) and water provision, waste purification, tourist attractions, and energy production. This environment is affected by many sources of anthopogenic pressure, such as overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species and more.
Despite its importance, public and scientific awareness of the state of nature in the Mediterranean Sea was negligible in the past, therefore knowledge to date is largely scarce, and quantitative information is lacking. Biodiversity monitoring is incomplete and is mostly conducted as a compulsory condition for obtaining a permit to discharge effluent to the sea. As part of the process, applicants are required to perform mainly chemical monitoring and animal assessment in a soft substrate as an indicator of pollution. Much quantitative information is lacking, and even when it exists it is not accessible to the public or to the research community for follow-up research. This and more: the survey of species diversity is not continuous and is limited to the shallow coastal strip, thus it does not fulfill the requirements of biodiversity monitoring.
Since 2014, HaMaarag has been conducting the Mediterranean Sea Biodiversity Monitoring Program in partnership with the Department of Marine Biology at the University of Haifa. This program is the first effort at systematic monitoring, in Israel’s region of the Mediterranean Sea, of flora and fauna of the rocky reefs at depths of 10, 25 and 45 meters, using technical diving with closed systems that do not emit bubbles. It is based on the principles of monitoring programs in Eilat and in the Mediterranean Sea, additional monitoring programs from around the world, and the Nature and Parks Authority’s proposal for biological monitoring in the Mediterranean Sea. HaMaarag’s monitoring program is planned to integrate with the national monitoring program of the Marine and Coastal Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and will be conducted in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and interested bodies dealing with monitoring in the Mediterranean Sea, such as the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel-Aviv University, Ecoocean, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, and the Fishery and Aquaculture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Aims of the Monitoring Program
- Quantitative and qualitative characterization of existing biodiversity at the monitoring sites in the marine space of Israel’s region of the Mediterranean Sea, on a systematic long-term basis.
- Broadening the scientific base that will allow advancement of ecological research in the marine space in order to analyze long-term processes.
- Providing data for the purpose of improving planning, management and policy-making by the relevant bodies, and for use by other interested parties.
- Forming a basis for assessing the state of nature and of ecosystem processes in the marine space, and for identifying significant changes, mainly those that express deterioration of, and damage to, ecosystem biodiversity and functioning.
The rationale behind the program
The proposed monitoring program was built with the aim of characterizing the state of nature in the Mediterranean Sea which is subject to a wide range of stresses and pressures such as industrial pollutants, increasing salinity, overfishing, habitat destruction and more. A description of these pressures is provided in the State of Nature in the Mediterranean Sea Report. In each environment, the monitoring method was adapted for the stresses having the greatest effect. These methods enable long-term monitoring of the effects of these pressures on variation in biodiversity indicators. At this stage the choice of indicators has not been finalized and is expected to be updated since we are operating in a marine system with little existing information on the one hand, and budget restrictions on the other.
The basis for understanding changes in biodiversity and the ability to make conclusions about the factors causing the changes depends on accessibility of background information regarding water quality, including chemical, physical and biological data in each of the monitoring sites.
Monitoring of all marine flora and fauna components is an impossible task for a monitoring program, and requires immense resources. Uniform repeated sampling of representative variables can provide a good picture of long-term processes. In the light of the poor existing knowledge it is difficult to determine at this stage which are the most important components to monitor in order to obtain this picture. In this program we decided to focus on a number of components central to the monitoring programs of Eilat, the Mediterranean Sea and around the world. Cooperation with interested parties from governmental bodies, from academia and from the public, will allow us to complement the monitoring project with information gathered from external marine monitoring projects, for example, on marine turtles, dolphins, sharks, gelatinous animals, zooplankton, pelagic fish and more.
Principles of the Monitoring Program
Distribution of Sampling Sites
The monitoring program is planned to provide data that represent the biodiversity of the marine system in Israel’s region of the Mediterranean Sea. At this stage we are focusing on biodiversity monitoring in the rocky zone via technical diving and sampling of water indices at the following sites:
- Achziv (relatively undisturbed northern site – within and around the nature reserve)
- Nahariya (control site outside of the nature reserve)
- Sdot Yam (disturbed site in the country’s center)
A southern site (Palmachim/Nitzanim) is planned to enter the monitoring program in 2016.
The Sampling Site
A sampling site comprises a number of primary monitoring components:
- Sampling background data from the site’s environs
- Biodiversity monitoring (fish, invertebrates, algae, bacteria and phytoplankton)
- Assessing the growth rate of macro-algae
Program Director: Dr. Aviad Scheinin, HaMaarag
Academic Director: Dr. Dan Tchernov, Department of Marine Biology, University of Haifa
Monitoring Staff: Shay Einbinder, Stefan Martinez, Hagai Nativ
Scientific Committee: Prof. Maoz Fine – Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Hezi Gildor – Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Yoni Belmaker – Tel-Aviv University, Dr. Brice Semmens – Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Advisors: Dr. Daniel Sher – University of Haifa, Dr. Michael Krom – University of Haifa.