Nov. 11 - Israeli ecologists are calling for the coral reefs of Eilat to be declared a World Heritage site because of their unique ability to resist bleaching. The researchers say protecting them to create a global coral refuge should be an environmental priority. Jim Drury reports.
UPSOT: THE SEA The coral reefs of Eilat, renowned for their plentiful exotic fish and popularity among divers. UPSOT: THE SEA Israeli ecologists say they're also an environmental wonder, apparently immune to the phenomenon of coral bleaching that is destroying reef systems elsewhere in the world. Professor Amatzia Genin, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, co-led a study into the ancient coral. He says the reefs have unique properties. SOUNDBITE (English) AMATZIA GENIN, PROFESSOR OF ECOLOGY AT THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM, SAYING: "Eight thousand years ago, the Red Sea, the entrance was already as warm as today. So that means that all the corals that entered from the Indian ocean to the Red Sea had to survive high temperature. So they were adapted, those corals that were not adapted to high temperature couldn't make it, they died." The Gulf of Eilat - also known as the Gulf of Aqaba - is located at the Red Sea's northern tip, its coastline shared by Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. In other reef ecosystems, coral can lose the algae living in its tissues if the temperature gets too high, causing it to turn white and eventually die - but not here. Genin and his colleagues at Israel's Bar-Ilan University say the Red Sea reefs are special, and deserve protection. SOUNDBITE (English) AMATZIA GENIN, PROFESSOR OF ECOLOGY AT THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM, SAYING: "What we would like to ask the world (is), define the Gulf of Aqaba as a World Heritage and defend the corals there because they may serve as the seed or the refuge for future coral reefs on the globe." Some scientists warn of mass coral mortality within a century if ocean temperatures continue to rise. Genin thinks Eilat could survive for double that time, giving corals a safe haven while experts try to reverse the damage and rebuild ocean environments for reefs to thrive.