Foto Friday – Mediterranean Coral Reefs

The exploration vessel Nautilus is a 64-meter research vessel based in Turkey, owned and operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, and funded in part by the US NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration. It’s also the flagship for marine explorer Dr. Robert D. Ballard, whom you might recognize from the National Geographic channel.

Nautilus was here off the coast of Israel this month, using sonar to explore the depths – as far down as 1.7 km – of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, “home to underwater landslides, deep-sea corals, ancient archaeological sites, gas seeps, and many other interesting features.”

Already this week, together with a team of experts headed by Professor Zvi Ben-Avraham of the University of Haifa’s Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, the researchers announced a major discovery: for the first time, an area of reefs with deep-sea corals has been found in the Mediterranean.

The area apparently stretches over a few kilometers, 700 meters under the surface and some 30-40 km off the coast of Tel Aviv. The southeastern region of the Mediterranean has only sparse sea life, which means, as team member Dr. Yizhaq Makovsky put it, “It’s like finding a flourishing oasis in the middle of the desert.”

The collaborative research team has begun to examine their discoveries which include two shipwrecks, probably modern boats that sank sometime during the past few decades…

A Chimaera Monstrosa, of the “ghost shark” family that branched off from sharks some 400 million years ago…

And a 10 centimeter long (or is that wide?) crab hiding in the recess of a rock.

The Haifa team gave special thanks to Nautilus’ technological capabilities. The vessel is equipped with the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Hercules, Argus, Diana, and Echo (Hercules did the work in Israel but you can read more about all the ROVs here). It has a high-bandwidth satellite system on board to facilitate remote science and education via the Inner Space Center (ISC) at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and Exploration Command Consoles located around the world.

You can also log into Nautilus’ webcams, any time of the day or night, to see what crew is up to. They’re in Santorini right now, exploring underwater volcanoes. Hope they come back soon – there’s lots more to discover here.

Israeli Org Offers 6 Tips to Clean the Sea on World Water Day

June 8, 2010 - 11:00 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Environment 

Don’t dump to the sea! Israel can learn from America’s mistakes. This sign to protect oysters and fish, Apalachicola, Florida.

Two thirds of the world is water – home to mysterious and life-sustaining organisms. The world’s oceans also serve as a carbon sink, helping maintain a balance as humans upset the balance with all our greenhouse gas emissions. Species like coral reefs are at threat as the world’s oceans warm up, plastic bottles and debris are choking our sea-life, and over-fishing of seafood and fish are putting species at risk.

The good news is there is a World Ocean Day. Today. Of course, most green readers to Israelity know that every day is important for the Seven Seas, or more accurately our one great salty body of water, but UNESCO liked the idea and last year declared June 8, the day. Proposed on 8 June 1992 by Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it had been unofficially celebrated every year since then as World Ocean Day.

World Water Day is an opportunity every year to honor the world’s ocean, to get the kids off their Wii’s and computers and celebrate what the oceans give us. It’s also a time to teach kids and even adults how to give back. Today, our eco-friend Andreas Weil (who swims with whales!), the founder of the Israeli ocean research and education center EcoOcean, gives us his 6 tips on how to do your part. Read more

Whale hears of tax breaks, returns to Israel

May 17, 2010 - 8:09 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Environment, General 

Everyone’s coming to Israel, it seems – even a giant grey whale.

In what was thought to be the first time the giant mammal has been seen outside the Pacific in several hundred years, the lone whale was which sighted off Herzliya beach on Saturday, and is believed by scientists to have travelled thousands of miles from the north Pacific after losing its way in search of food.

“It’s an unbelievable event which has been described as one of the most important whale sightings ever,” said Dr Aviad Scheinin, chairman of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center which identified the creature.

“What has amazed the entire marine mammal research community is there haven’t been any grey whales in the Atlantic since the 18th century,” he told reporters over the weekend.

Scheinin said the mature whale, measuring some 39 feet and weighing around 20 tons, probably reached the Atlantic through the Northwest Passage, an Arctic sea route that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and is normally covered with ice.

While thin, the whale appeared to be in good shape, said Scheini, adding that he thought it could survive in our waters indefinitely. He was unsure whether this indicates a trend, and more grey whales will arriving to our shores.

But if they once belonged here, and if they heard about Sunday’s decision by the Cabinet to provide a number of financial incentives, including tax breaks, to Israelis living abroad to return home, then we may start seeing an influx of grey whales very soon.


August 5, 2008 - 7:03 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Environment, General, History and Culture, Israeliness 

As we head to a week-long beach vacation in Hofit, a little yishuv near Netanya, I’m dreaming about cool sand between my toes in the early morning, and salty seas in the late afternoon, just before the sun starts setting. But everyone has been telling me to watch out for the medusot, or jellyfish, that are plaguing the Mediterranean Sea this time of year.

jellyfish.jpg Even the New York Times, well, International Herald Tribune for those of us on this side of the ocean, featured a front page, below-the-fold story the other day about jellyfish, the canary in the ocean’s coal mine, forcing beaches to close in Australia, France, Hawaii and Virginia. Benji Lovitt, in a recent Ynet piece, tells us to urinate on jellyfish stings when beachcombing in Tel Aviv, while my nephew said vinegar does the trick. Both sound fairly vile.
But I’m taking the more literary, esoteric approach, and thinking about jellyfish in the Etgar Keret manner, that is, as presented in his movie, Jellyfish, which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes in May. Saw it during the Israel Film Festival in July, and haven’t been able to get it out of my head. As J. Hoberman, a Village Voice reviewer, phrased it, “The movie’s title suggests that its principles [three lonely characters] are amorphous creatures subject to the ocean’s mysterious currents.”

Not stingers out to get clueless swimmers, but bloblike creatures bobbing along the ocean floor. Sort of like I plan to be on vacation, on the beach, in the water. Or as in the Greek sea nymph Medusa, when she still had hair, and before she sprang a head full of snakes and a reputation as a monstrous beast.

It’s all about attitude.

Beach dangers

July 28, 2008 - 6:34 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: General, Israeliness 

No SwimmingAnother sunny, summer weekend in Israel, but marked by five drownings in the Mediterranean Sea, between the coasts of Tel Aviv and Atlit. Swimmers had been warned about the turbulent waters this weekend, caused by strong winds, but chose to ignore the warnings and swam in areas where there weren’t lifeguards or public services. Three of the five drownings took place in unguarded beaches.

You read these stories every summer, and often, but not always, the victims are foreign workers who drank too much beer and don’t know how to swim, or haven’t spent a lot of time in sea waters. Not so for yesterday’s victims, all of whom were locals who should have known better. One beach lifeguard complained that part of the problem is that restaurants and snack bars have spread to the unguarded areas of the beaches, leading people to believe that there must be a lifeguard in the vicinity. Or, they just don’t pay attention to what the water is doing and figure they’ll be fine.

It bears a scary similarity to Israelis’ tendency to drive recklessly, including passing other cars on narrow two-lane highways, sometimes killing others or themselves in the process. Is this part of the Israeli tendency to sieze the day, given the worries and dangers of this world and society, or just plain idiocy? This does happen elsewhere, including the U.S., which also had a bad weekend. Yet a lot of it seems to be the yehiye b’seder culture, in which the belief is that everything will be fine, no matter what happens.


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