| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

An expedition to save the future of corals

The collapse of coral reefs has long-term implications not only for the entire ocean, but also for people and the planet. Solutions will require innovations and partnerships that can drive the social change needed to curb damage to coral reefs and reverse the downward trend in their health and survival.

In an initiative of the Transnational Red Sea Centre (TRSC), with the support of the Government of Switzerland, the Three Cultures Foundation is collaborating with the Swiss Embassy for Spain and Andorra to preserve the future of the Red Sea corals. To celebrate the starting point of the expedition, the Three Cultures Foundation has joined this initiative by organising the conference ‘Uniting science, diplomacy and cultures for the future of corals’ at its headquarters in Seville. The lecture, given by Professor Anders Meibom, from the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, took place on Thursday 22 April.

Coral deterioration is one more of the warning signs that our planet is suffering. Over the last 30 years, 50% of the world’s corals have disappeared due to global warming, pollution and other destructive human activities, and it is estimated that only 10% will survive beyond 2050.

Higher than normal sea surface temperatures over prolonged periods of time are causing corals around the world to die, a phenomenon that climate models predict will become increasingly common.

Corals are dying due to heat waves that affect them and cause the appearance of coral bleaching. A coral is a symbiotic organism and in its tissue it harbours millions of tiny algae that are essential for the coral’s survival. These algae can develop their own photosynthesis and convert CO2 from the water into sugars, thus feeding the coral. From stress due to pollution, the algae are expelled from their tissue, when the algae leave, the coral turns white and loses sugars and food. This is happening on a massive scale all over the planet.

Recent studies have shown that corals in the Gulf of Aqaba are resistant to global warming because of their particular genetics. This is why their survival is possible as long as the environmental pressure exerted by human activity in the countries bordering the Red Sea is tempered.
The initiative involves several regional and international researchers who will travel aboard the Swiss sailing vessel Fleur de Passion, the logistics platform and flagship of this initiative, to study the situation of the coral reefs and raise awareness of the importance of caring for them among the population of the coastal countries as well as worldwide.

The project is planning four expeditions each summer, starting this year and continuing until 2024, along the approximately 4,000 km of Red Sea coastline. The first expedition will depart for Aqaba from Seville on Saturday 25 April and will run from July to September on board the Fleur de Passion. In the last six years the world’s largest coral reef, which is the size of Italy, has lost 50 per cent of its coral reef. Mankind’s only hope of preserving coral reefs lies in the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea. The northern part of the Red Sea is home to corals that can withstand and tolerate rising temperatures without showing any signs of bleaching.

Apart from environmental interests, reef ecosystems encompass economic and political interests, due to the intensity of the economic revenues resulting from the attraction of tourism. Countries like Egypt would lose all their income. A single coral reef with a hope of survival, but it is a complicated geopolitical region.

The Passion Flower expedition will set off from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, where there is a real treasure trove of natural world heritage. There they will deal with corals with structures that are able to withstand higher temperatures than in other parts of the world. They are therefore better able to withstand the complications of climate change, helping to understand how we can lead the fight against global warming.

The corals of the Red Sea are a breath of hope for preserving these all-important underwater vessels and, ultimately, for protecting a natural ecosystem that belongs to all of us. This is the great work they are doing through scientific diplomacy supported by the Swiss government with this important expedition.