Reaching Past Borders to Protect the Mediterranean

mediterranean explorer ecoocean research boat photo

The EcoOcean research vessel R/V Mediterranean Explorer. Photo: EcoOcean.

Countries around the Mediterranean have been abuzz in recent weeks over currently thwarted plans to sail a flotilla of ships to run Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip -- an action that ended in nine deaths, and ongoing regional tensions, last year. Meanwhile, a less-heralded seafaring expedition took to the same waters last month to bring sometimes combative countries together around environmental cooperation.Graduate students from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as Lebanon, Greece, Malta, Tunisia, Italy, and the United Kingdom, were among the participants in a two-week-long regional marine research project that took place in June off the coast of Italy. Organized by the Israel-based conservation group EcoOcean, the trip sought both to create bridges between the region's next generation of scientists and to research some of the threats to the Mediterranean, which is bordered by 21 different countries with wildly varying environmental laws and level of enforcement.

'Environmental Impacts Know No Boundaries'
"Scientific cooperation between nations is imperative to successfully research, monitor, and manage the Mediterranean Sea, which has been invaluable in shaping the economic, technological, and cultural development of the nations surrounding it," said EcoOcean director Daniel Schaeffer, who came up with the idea for the workshop, titled "Environmental Impacts Know No Boundaries."

ecoocean mediterranean research crew photo

Participants in the Mediterranean research project. Photo: EcoOcean.

Participants used a remote operated vehicle (ROV) to examine seagrass meadows, fish, corals, and other marine life along the Cinqueterre Marine Reserve and National Park, measured turbulence patterns in the water column that can affect the biology of aquatic organisms, and searched for bioluminescent dinoflagellates, known to cause harmful algal blooms. They also tracked dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals using hydrophones and hydro-acoustics.

"Despite the politics that restrict regional cooperation, environmental issues many times transcend national borders and political restrictions," Schaeffer said. Pollution and ocean warming are just two examples that must be addressed by cooperation that also transcends borders, something on which the trip participants have gotten a good head start.

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