The canal is operated and maintained by the state-owned Suez Canal Authority (SCA) of Egypt. The Suez Canal is a man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. It enables a more direct route for shipping between Europe and Asia, effectively allowing for passage from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean without having to circumnavigate the African continent. In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez. The Suez Canal is a human-made waterway that cuts north-south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt. The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, making it the shortest maritime route to Asia from Europe. Since its completion in 1869, it has become one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.
In the end, Egypt emerged victorious, and the British, French and Israeli governments withdrew their troops in late 1956 and early 1957. The event was a pivotal event among Cold War superpowers. An Israeli submarine openly crossed the Suez Canal last week, in a show of force against Iran, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday night. The move was approved by Egypt, according to the report, which cited Arab intelligence sources.
In 2020, the total revenue generated amounted to 5.61 billion USD and 18,829 ships with a total net tonnage of 1.17 billion passed through the canal. Daily revenues are $15 million USD or €13 million.
Many of the Mediterranean’s original inhabitants were, of course, aliens, flocking in from the Atlantic to find a new home in the Mediterranean as the Atlantic waters poured into the almost dry basins and filled them up. But in the five million years since, these immigrants have adapted to the Mediterranean way of life and have become natives. Shipping in
Now though, there is a new wave of immigrants. One of the most notorious is the tropical green algae Caulerpia taxifolia, which escaped from aquariums in the 1980s and has now spread across vast areas of the Mediterranean seabed. Dubbed the ‘killer algae’, it has brought devastation by overgrowing native seagrasses and weeds in dense mats that not only inhibit the growth of young fish, but are also very unpleasant for swimmers and boaters.
Shipping in the Mediterranean has increased dramatically in the last few decades. In 2001, 33,000 vessels entered the Mediterranean, and the figure may well be double that now.
Ballast water is a major problem (see page 78). The American blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, spread around the Mediterranean in this way as long ago as the 1940s. More recently, the comb jellyfish arrived. This notorious American invader wreaked havoc in the Black Sea in the 1990s, and it now seems to be spreading through the Mediterranean. In 2009, comb jellyfish were spotted off the coast of Israel. The much greater range of species in the Mediterranean means it will probably cause less damage there, but such invasions are clearly a problem. In fact, the coast of the Levant has been the site of another jellyfish invasion for the last few decades. Every summer since the mid-1980s, swarms of the jellyfish Rhopilema nomadica have turned up in the Mediterranean. The swarms are so big that they can stretch 100 km (60 miles) along the coast, upsetting swimmers who are worried by their stings, clogging up fishing nets, and blocking up the intake pipes of ships’ cooling systems.
The source of this jellyfish plague is the Suez Canal. The jellyfish are from the Red Sea, but made it through the canal along with the ships. The reason this happens is that the Red Sea is slightly higher than the Mediterranean, so the canal serves as a tidal channel through which water flows from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, carrying all manner of organisms with it. Because the flow is one way, Red Sea organisms invade the Mediterranean but not the other way around. This invasion from the Red Sea, and from the Indian Ocean beyond, is called Erythrean invasion, or Lessepsian invasion after Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who designed the canal.
The Suez Canal opened in 1869, but the invasion did not start straightaway. Two very salty lakes, known as the Bitter Lakes, formed in the middle of the canal route in formerly dry valleys, and these lakes proved too salty for organisms to cross. But after a few decades, the constant flow of water from the Red Sea into the lakes reduced their salinity and made it possible for organisms to make the journey. Since then, more than 300 species have made the journey and some 80 percent of the ‘foreign’ fish, decapods, crustaceans, and molluscs arrived this way.
Adapted to warm, salty seas, these Erythrean invaders often do very well in the warm, salty Mediterranean in competition with the locals who came originally from the cooler fresher Atlantic. They have begun to do especially well in the Eastern Mediterranean since the 1960s when the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile reduced the flow of nutrientrich fresh water into the sea, and made it more like the Red Sea. One Red Sea invader, the bivalve mollusc Brachidontes pharaonis, has all but replaced the native mollusc Mytilaster minimus in many places. Another invader, the pearl oyster, has spread across the Mediterranean on boats and maybe even on the backs of sea turtles.
Not all the invaders are bad news. The Erythrean penaeid prawns are now highly prized by fishing fleets in the Eastern Mediterranean, and now account for a large proportion of the catch of small Israeli coastal trawlers.
Just how the natives will cope with all these invaders remains to be seen. Marine biologists have expressed concern about the Egyptian government’s intention to widen and deepen the Suez Canal. Even a small increase in the dept may let in invaders that find the waters too shallow at present.