Sharks drawn to warm waters by Israeli coastal power plant

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The giant power plant with billowing smoke may not look like the most natural habitat for sea life. But the hot water gushing from the plant is drawing schools of sharks that are increasingly endangered by overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea. Now the hotspot is also drawing tourists. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
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A nearby giant power plant may not look like the most natural habitat for sea life. But the hot water gushing from the plant is drawing schools of sharks that are increasingly endangered by over fishing. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Updated 31 January 2019

Sharks drawn to warm waters by Israeli coastal power plant

  • Shifting climate of Mediterranean creating bizarre boon for sharks
  • Scientists say the Mediterranean Sea has never been warmer

HADERA, Israel: A giant power plant with billowing smoke may not look like the most natural habitat for sea life. But the hot water gushing from an industrial plant in Israel’s northern city of Hadera has drawn schools of sharks that are increasingly endangered by overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea. Now the hotspot is also drawing tourists.
Sandbar and dusky sharks have been sighted around the power plant for decades, but scientists only started collecting data two years ago. Although they are still trying to count the smatterings of sharks nearby, researcher Aviad Scheinin said the hundreds flocking exclusively to the Hadera power plant every winter qualifies as “a legitimate and rare phenomenon.”
“The paradox that we see here is that this is not a natural environment ... and you cannot see it anywhere else in the vicinity,” said Scheinin, manager of the top predator project at the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station, established by the University of Haifa. “This phenomenon is influenced and created by men, both with the power plant and the sea’s increasingly warm water.”
The shifting climate of the Mediterranean Sea has been creating a bizarre boon for sharks, which thrive in and chase warm water. Expert say the warm water stimulates shark metabolisms, improves their breathing cycles and facilitates their pregnancies.
“The spectacle is logical, but still very mysterious,” said Alen Soldo, co-president of the Shark Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature based in Switzerland.
He said the power plant’s water temperature — 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the sea — is what likely attracts the sharks to Hadera from deeper, colder waters during the winter season. Beyond this, though, a great deal remains unknown. “We know sharks love this water, and we can hypothesize, but we can’t say with certainty exactly why,” he said.
Soldo added that although he hadn’t heard of sharks congregating at power plants outside Israel, he could name a few other Mediterranean hotspots, such as coral reefs near Beirut, where sharks swarm in a similarly random way, perhaps driven by salinity and temperature levels.
Scientists say the Mediterranean Sea has never been warmer, both because of climate change and the recent expansion of the Suez Canal, which opened the floodgates to Red Sea waters, among the warmest in the world.
A recent study, published last fall in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that climate change is steadily heating the Mediterranean Sea by 0.4 degrees every decade, making the region among the hardest hit in the world.
“The winters are not as cold as they used to be here, and they are no longer a limiting factor for sharks,” Scheinin said. “Many new shark species are coming to the eastern Mediterranean from colder areas and establishing populations.”
On a recent trip, Scheinin steered his small boat of researchers along the coast and cut the motor. The team bobbed in the currents of the power plant discharge, straining to spot slender shadows whipping by in the turquoise water.
A sudden churning in the water jolted the crew to action. A five-foot-long (1.5 meter-long) sandbar shark, ensnared by ropes, popped up at the boat’s ledge. The researchers leaned over and wrangled with it, planting a high-tech tag on its dorsal fin to track its movements before setting it free.
“It’s ironic that all of our knowledge of sharks currently comes from the very fisheries that are threatening them,” said Eyal Bigal, the lab manager of the project.
The Morris Kahn Station’s top predator team is working to change this, pulling together the first comprehensive body of data about the understudied and endangered Mediterranean shark species.
Overfishing, spurred by demand along with lax fishing laws in neighboring countries like Lebanon and Syria, has depleted the Mediterranean shark population by over 90 percent since the 1950s, researchers say.
An absence of top predators imperils the balance of the entire marine ecosystem.
“If you erase the ones at the top, the food chain will collapse,” Soldo said. “New species may emerge and start preying on populations crucial to human food security. Whole life forms may go extinct.”
Hadera’s hotspot for sharks is now attracting visitors curious about the creatures and the threats they face.
The municipality and Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, among other groups, are partnering to build an observation center. Last month, they launched a lecture series to educate tourists about shark behavior and protection.
Scheinin said studying the sharks in Hadera could be a harbinger that “helps us assess what will happen to different species when waters elsewhere reach the temperatures we have here now.”


‘Sesame Street’ comforts children displaced by Syrian war

Updated 15 min 6 sec ago

‘Sesame Street’ comforts children displaced by Syrian war

NEW YORK: “Sesame Street” in the past year has tackled everything from foster care to substance abuse. Now its latest effort is trying to help children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war.
Sesame Workshop — the nonprofit, educational organization behind “Sesame Street” — has launched a new, locally produced Arabic TV program for the hundreds of thousands of children dealing with displacement in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
“The thing that became very apparent in our work on the ground is how critical the need was for the children of this region and children who have been affected by traumatic events to have the social and emotional skills they need,” said Sherrie Westin, president of Social Impact & Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop.
Called “Ahlan Simsim,” which means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic, the show will feature Elmo, Cookie Monster and Grover, as well as two brand new Muppets — the boy monster Jad, who had to leave his home, and Basma, a purple girl monster who befriends the young stranger. An adorable goat named Ma’zooza adds comic relief.
Each 26-minute show will explore emotions experienced by all kids but particularly relevant to those dealing with trauma and will offer coping skills for feelings like anger, fear, frustration, nervousness and loneliness. In one episode, Basma shares her toys with Jad, since he left his behind. Some of the strategies include belly breathing and expression through art.
A variety show in the second half of each episode offers creators the chance to bring in local celebrities and attract an adult audience to hammer home the message. “The humor has to be there always, which is the ‘Sesame’ spirit,” said Khaled Haddad, an executive producer.
“Ahlan Simsim” will premiere Feb. 2 on MBC3, a pan-Arab satellite network that reaches 20 countries in North Africa, the Gulf and the Levant, as well as YouTube and national broadcasters across the region.
Production is based in the Jordanian capital Amman, with input from writers and performers from across the region. Dialects will be diversified, from Jordanian to Saudi.
“We know a lot about children and children’s development and what’s needed. But we always want to learn from people on the ground,” said Westin. “We know that when children can see themselves, identify with these characters and when they can relate to the story lines, we are the most effective.”
Targeted for children ages 3-8, the show will steer clear of the larger political, social or religious issues. “To the best of our ability we are not making political statements,” Westin said.
“The spirit behind ‘Sesame Street’ has always been it doesn’t matter if you have purple fur or yellow fur,” said Scott Cameron, a two-time Emmy Award-winning producer who serves as executive producer of the new show. “It’s a place where children can feel safe and supported and where real things are tackled — like fear of the dark, frustration or loneliness. We try to always do it with comedy alongside the heartfelt.”
The show is at the center of a wider push together with the International Rescue Committee that includes direct services, including home visits, classrooms and health clinics, all enhanced by Sesame materials like storybooks, puzzles, games and videos. One episode, for example, will show Jad terrified of going to the doctor and then will explore that fear.
“It’s more than a TV show. It’s a massive intervention,” said Cameron. “It’s a world where children and their families can feel safe and secure. And it’s a world where the media content is meant to be a portal into a fuller, broader set of humanitarian assistance.”
The program was initially funded by a $100 million award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The LEGO Foundation then awarded an additional $100 million to deepen the play-based learning of “Ahlan Simsim” and gave Sesame Workshop the chance to expand to Bangladesh to serve families affected by the Rohingya crisis.
Since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, some 5 million children have been displaced internally and outside Syria, according to the UN-backed Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Its report this month said the youngsters have been “robbed of their childhood” by violations from all sides.
“Sesame Street” has had a presence in the Middle East for decades, starting when the show “Iftah Ya Simsim” premiered in 1979 in Kuwait, followed by local Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli versions of “Sesame Street.”
This time, to assess which early childhood interventions work best in crisis settings, Sesame Workshop is working with New York University’s Global TIES for Children center to independently evaluate both the direct services and mass media components of the program.
Creators hope the lessons learned in the Middle East can be translated to other regions, just as things “Sesame Street” learned in American inner cities can help all children. “It will reach children throughout the Middle East but the benefits will be to all children,” said Westin.