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Israeli-European Red Sea coral study delayed by a year after ship runs aground

Scientific expedition to boost conservation efforts was to see collaboration with Sudan, but vessel hit a reef passing the Straits of Tiran

The Fleur de Passion research ship before it left Eilat in southern Israel for Port Sudan, July 19, 2021. ((Marcos Schonholz)
The Fleur de Passion research ship before it left Eilat in southern Israel for Port Sudan, July 19, 2021. ((Marcos Schonholz)

An Israeli-European scientific expedition that set sail from Israel toward Sudan last month to study Red Sea corals was forced to cancel its mission after the boat was damaged, organizers said Wednesday.

With six scientists and four crew members, the expedition’s ambitious goal was to create a first-ever comprehensive study of the corals in the entire Red Sea, possibly yielding precious information on the long-term viability of reefs.

Scientists from Sudan were to join the study for what would have been the first-ever major academic collaboration with an Israeli researcher, less than a year after the countries normalized ties.

But just one day after setting sail, the ship hit a reef passing the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, organizers said, and the Egyptian navy evacuated the crew to Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Transnational Red Sea Center, created by the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne (EPFL) with the support of the Swiss government, had launched the Swiss-flagged Fleur de Passion from Israel’s resort city Eilat on July 20.

The delegation, headed by Maoz Fine of the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat and EPFL’s Anders Meibom, who also directs the TRSC, was set to reach Port Sudan four days later.

After it became clear the Fleur de Passion could not be fixed in good time, Meibom said Wednesday that they were forced to postpone the expedition to next year.

“This postponement is certainly regrettable, but it does not call into question the project as a whole,” Meibom said in a statement.

While coral populations around the world are undergoing bleaching caused by climate change, reefs in the northern Red Sea, where the Gulf of Eilat lies, have stayed stable because of their unique heat resistance.

For years Fine had said that a comprehensive study of the Red Sea reefs was necessary to fully understand the variation from north to south.

The project was set to take place over several years, aiming to involve additional Red Sea countries.

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