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Underwater in Eilat

 

My name is Sophia MacVittie.   I'm a marine biology major at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and this summer, I have had an amazing opportunity. I'm spending my summer working as a volunteer at the Interuniversity Institute (IUI) in Eilat. Dr. Buki Rinkevich of the Institute of Oceanographic and Limnological Research in Haifa connected me with two of his graduate students at IUI. I have been working on what is considered to be the forefront of coral restoration research. My job has been full of days in the laboratory, which are fascinating.   What I have found most enjoyable however, is the time I have been able to spend in the field. While the tasks vary from day to day, I always look forward to them. This is, in large part, due to the biodiversity of the region and the care that Israel puts into its reefs.

 

Just like anywhere else in the world where there are reefs, there are tourists, and Eilat is no exception. It is a hub for people to take a step away from their daily lives and relax. And it’s not just Israelis; this town is bordered by both Egypt and Jordan. And despite tensions, people flock to Eilat just to relax and spend some time away. The ocean has brought people together, and unlike other parts of Israel where tensions are high between the Jewish and Arab populations, people here generally seem to coexist without issue. Here in the Holy Land, where every place is coveted and revered by someone, this beautiful city by the Sea somehow feels like sacred space.

 

Diving multiple times a day, and spending hours bent over a lab table can take its toll. Diving pushes your body to new limits, it tests your endurance, and yet somehow you never really feel it when you are underwater.  The moment I press the deflate button on my BCD, and my head sinks underwater, everything is calm. The silence puts my mind immediately at ease, and I can‘t help but to fully absorb my surroundings.

 

Every dive I do, I am hyper aware.  The water pulls me out of all the hectic nonsense going on shore-side, and leaves me to just think. Working at IUI has caused many of those thoughts to turn to conservation. We often don’t realize just how grave the state of our oceans has become. A few days ago I was doing a survey dive, and came across a coral that is believed to be between 3000 and 5000 years old. The structure is massive; in fact it’s larger than the dormitory I live in at school. You can’t help but wonder why seeing these types of things has become such a rarity, and why corals are living for only a few short decades.

 

The work being done all over Israel is such a privilege to be connected to.  Everyday I walk in to work and I feel hopeful, maybe today we’ll take another step forward, and understand a little bit better how to fix what we have damaged. In the scientific community, there is a lack of consensus on whether corals will be able to recover on their own.  Some people feel reefs should be left alone to repair themselves, while it is the belief of others, many of whom I work with, that they need our help. The conclusion I have come to since working here is this, reefs systems may be able to recover on their own, but being proactive and giving them the push they need can only help speed up the process. The work being done here in Israel aims to do just that, lend a helping hand to a system that could seriously use it.

 

Being here has made me realize just how important that is. I have had a passion for the ocean for as long as I can remember, and maybe it’s just the Israeli lifestyle rubbing off on me, but for the first time I don’t feel so helpless. For the first time I feel like we are on our way.

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