The wonderland of the deep seas in Israel has been declared a spot of hope

“Deep-sea coral gardens that took thousands of years to grow could disappear with one swipe of a fishing net.” Hadas Jan Berkal, SPNI

Sunlight does not reach the Palmahim Slide, a rare geological formation in the depths of the Mediterranean about 30 kilometers (19 miles) off the coast of Tel Aviv.

However, unique creatures thrive in this pitch-black hilly habitat, which features 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of coral gardens, methane seeps, saltwater pools and other underwater wonders.

Formed in antiquity by gradual landslide on the sea floor, the Palmahim Slide is a biodiversity hotspot where blackmouth catsharks breed and spawn bluefin tuna, according to international studies led in the past decade by Yitzhak Makovsky of the University of Haifa and Israel Oceanography and Research. Search.


Black shark. Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa and the Israel Oceanographic and Marine Research

In July, the Palmahim Slide (also called a turbulence) became the first Israeli spot of hope identified by Mission Blue, oceanographer Sylvia Earl, dedicated to the exploration and protection of important marine areas.

“Diversity is discovered there is nothing like anything seen before in the southeastern Mediterranean,” said Earl, who was the first female “aquanut” in Jacques Cousteau’s legendary explorations of the ocean.

Mission Blue has identified 144 points of hope that are critical to the health of the oceans and seas.

Earl urges Israeli policy makers to “follow in the Hope Spot’s footsteps by declaring 850 square kilometers of Palmahim Slide as an irreplaceable and recoverable marine reserve large enough to protect the marine life present there and not to allow any destructive activity in the reserve and its vicinity.”


Elongation of Isidella, an endangered bamboo coral, on mudflat sediments of the Palmahim Slide. Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa and the Israel Oceanographic and Marine Research

Earl’s endorsement provides a point of hope for Marine Projects Coordinator Hadas Jan Berkal and marine ecologist Ateret Shabtai of the Marine Program of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

Together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Jan Birkall and Shabtai called on Israeli and international authorities, such as the Italy-based General Committee for Fisheries in the Mediterranean, to declare most of the Palmahim Slide area as a protected area.

“Getting international recognition of the fact that this spot must be protected has really helped in our conversations with decision-makers responsible for the marine environment,” says Jan Birkhall.

They want to protect it from habitat-destroying oil and gas exploration and deep-sea fishing, while preserving it for scientific research that will ultimately benefit humanity.

Like exploring outer space


Jean Berkal’s Huds photo by Amnon Houry

“Deep-sea coral gardens that have taken thousands of years to grow can disappear with a single pass of a fishing net,” Jan Berkal told ISRAEL21c.

“If the Palmahim Slide Reserve is declared, these beautiful ecosystems can continue to grow and provide a whole new frontier for research and exploration. Using submarines and robotics, we can get pictures and videos of what is going on there.”

“As Sylvia Earle says, we can’t protect what we don’t know.”

Using new technologies, she says, “Now we can discover a lot of things about the deep sea. Fifteen or 20 years ago, you would see this vast blue sea and you don’t understand the amazing biodiversity it contains and how that affects our lives here on Earth.”

One of the ways it affects us is that the deep sea is a carbon sink, absorbing and trapping some of the environmentally harmful carbon that we create. A better understanding of this function could have implications for climate change research.

“Instead of vast expanses of sand and mud as you might expect, this deep sea region with unique geological features is a complex region with different types of habitat where each animal can find its own place,” says Jan Birkhall.


A white type of black coral depicted in the Palmahim slide. Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa and the Israel Oceanographic and Marine Research

Life is moving at a slow pace here. Without sun photosynthesis, plant life is fed by chemosynthesis – nutrients that are gradually transported to greater depth on water currents starting at the surface of the sea.

It notes that the Mediterranean covers about half of Israel’s area – 4,000 square kilometers of territorial waters and 22,000 square kilometers of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters. If Spot of Hope is declared a national marine reserve, it will be the first in Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

“The deep sea hasn’t been well studied, so it’s very exciting,” says Jan Birkhall. “It’s like exploring outer space. We need to retrieve information from 1,000 meters below sea level.”


Plastic bag interlocked in Leiopathes Black Coral from Palmahim Slide. Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa and the Israel Oceanographic and Marine Research

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