Researchers reported that the Red Sea’s renowned coral reef ecosystems are in danger because sea urchins in Israel’s Gulf of Eilat are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Scientists from Tel Aviv University claim that the black sea urchin Diadema setosum is being decimated by an unidentified infection.
The enormous die-off started in July in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and spread over time.
It was discovered in the northern Gulf of Eilat in January, and since then, according to the experts, it has moved south to the adjacent Red Sea.
An effective reef environment depends on the black sea urchin. Without them, algae spread out of control, choking off corals and jeopardizing the reef’s fragile ecosystem.
The results were detailed in a study released in the Royal Society Open Science journal on Wednesday.
Omri Bronstein, a marine biologist at Tel Aviv University and the principal author of several studies on sea urchin fatalities, described the death as “a fast and violent death: within just two days, a healthy sea urchin becomes a skeleton with massive tissue loss.”
He continued that they have ruled out localized poisoning or pollution and are now suspecting a “rapidly spreading epidemic” brought on by an undiscovered virus.
According to American experts, an identical mass sea urchin die-off that has destroyed reef ecosystems in the Caribbean was linked last month to a single-celled parasite.
The Israeli scientists have urged the Nature and Park Authority to take immediate action to save Israel’s already-vulnerable reef ecosystems since they suspect a similar infection may also be to blame for the deaths of sea urchins in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
According to Ian Hewson, a professor at Cornell University’s Marine Mass Mortality Lab who was not involved in the Tel Aviv University study, “This new outbreak of disease is a grave concern.”
According to him, it “would be interesting to know if the same agent is at work” in the Mediterranean as it has been in the Caribbean, where it is killing sea urchins.
If so, it will ask how geographically it gets vectored between such dispersed areas.
Beautiful coral reefs may be found in the Gulf of Eilat, a portion of the Red Sea shared by Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Scientists think these coral reefs may be more resistant to the rising waters brought on by human-caused climate change.