How "Eco-Friendly" is the Suez Canal?

In the past month, the 1300 feet long Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days. This event caused a huge setback in shipments and international exports, but how did it affect the environment? More generally, is the Suez Canal “eco-friendly”? After reading some articles about the environmental impact of the Suez Canal, I came across mixed opinions and captivating information which had to be shared. 

The building of the Suez Canal began in 1859 when Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French consul to Cairo made an agreement to build a 100-mile canal to connect the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The canal allowed a direct shipping route from the East to the West which significantly decreased the maritime travel time as seem in the image below. However, ships were not the only ones taking advantage of this shortcut. The construction of the Suez Canal created an invasive corridor, it acted as a passage for foreign species from the Red Sea to enter the Mediterranean Sea. Once organisms from the Red Sea reach the Mediterranean Sea, there is no way to remove them as they become invasive species. Since the opening of the canal, over 700 alien species have hitchhiked on boats to travel to the Mediterranean Sea. This movement has been named the Lessepsian migration after Ferdinand de Lesseps and has been in discussion since the opening of the Suez Canal. 


The introduction of invasive species in the Mediterranean has caused some irreversible effects as well as some positive ones. A professor of marine biology states that having species arrive in a new area is a normal evolutionary process, however it has been sped up immensely in this case. The process would typically take 200,000 years, but with the Suez Canal it is happening in less than 100 years. One of the most disruptive invasive species (or Lessepsian immigrants as some like to call it) is the venomous nomad jellyfish. Swarms of nomad jellyfish can be up to 100km wide making it dangerous for swimmers to enter the waters due to their painful sting which often requires hospitalization. The jellyfish also cause a dangerous impact on the fishing industry due to their need to eat everything and anything. Accompanying the nomad jellyfish is the silver-cheeked toadfish (seen below), a carnivorous bony fish who enjoys the Mediterranean’s diverse options of seafood such as shrimps, crabs and cuttlefish. In addition, the toadfish uses its powerful teeth to cause extensive damage to fishing nets and carries tetrodotoxin, a chemical which can cause death 17 minutes after ingestion. The presentation of invasive species has destroyed some of the most delicate parts of the Mediterranean ecosystem to the point of no hope. 


On the other hand, some Red Sea species are invited to the Mediterranean Sea party – with very specific roles. Some Lessespian species help to fulfill an area under stress or provide an additional food source. Many of them are edible and make up a great proportion of commercial catches which aids in preserving the over-fishing of one species. As the Lessepian species come from a harsher environment, they are able to withhold the drastic ecosystem changes occurring due to climate change. For instance, the Mediterranean Sea’s temperature has been increasing, and many Lessepian species have taken ecological roles which were lost due to some native Mediterranean species not being able to sustain the temperature changes. Sadly, the strong adaptability of the Red Sea species causes many native species to be out-competed, and sometimes become extinct. Many scientists believe that damage control and prevention methods need to be put in place at the Suez Canal. Some suggest a salinity barrier using the brine output of the nearby desalination plants, this would stem the species flow from South to North, instead of driving them to the Mediterranean Sea. 

We have all heard of the Ever-Given container vessel which got stuck in the Suez Canal for about six days, causing more than 350 ships to be backlogged. This event produced a spike in ship pollution, specifically SO2 which was visible from space. Though the ships were parked, the vessels were still running for boilers and power units, creating a build-up of SO2 in the local atmosphere. The SO2 emissions caused by the ships hotelling at the Suez Blockage isn’t the main environmental concern from this event, experts say that the added trips needed due to lost goods will have a greater effect. The global shipping industry is already responsible for a massive amount of carbon emissions by producing about 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Despite this fact, shipping is one of the more sustainable modes of commercial transport (as seen below), especially as green fuels are starting to be used for ships. Even with the invasive corridor, the Suez Canal has aided a lot in reducing emissions, as shorter trips can be made, resulting in less emissions produced. 


So is the Suez Canal “Eco-Friendly” or not? It’s a hard question to answer, as there are many issues surrounding the Earth’s health which include emissions, loss of biodiversity, consumerism and many more. Therefore, when analyzing an infrastructure to determine if it is sustainable, it is often found that it aids the earth in some aspects, and damages it in others. For instance, the Suez Canal helps to reduce emissions caused by marine shipping, but worsens the biodiversity of the surrounding seas. It is impossible to deduce if it is an overall benefit to the planet, as we would have to analyze the importance and impact of every detail, which is constantly changing.


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  1. Learned some new concepts, well done

  2. vraimet très intéressant. Difficile en effet de porter un jugement "pour" ou "contre" tant les conditions de vie actuelle sont devenues compliquées . Merci pour ces informations pertinentes.

  3. Very interesting, there are so many different issues to take into consideration. Hopefully the planet will manage to recuperate some day.


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