Climate Change at the Mediterranean The Great Alexandria’s Final Battle

Illustration: A map showing the Mediterranean Sea
Artists from the Mediterranean region and beyond, in collaboration with scientists, create interactive maps around the cultural asset of water. | Illustration (detail) © Goethe-Institut Alexandria/ Mai Koraiem

Climate change has shown no mercy to the places that were once magnificent and powerful. Two Thousand years after Alexander the Great created his magnum opus, where is the city of Alexandria now? Through a series of interviews, we have attempted to answer those questions.

Learning about our past can teach us a lot about our future. That’s what Ziad Morsy, visiting lecturer, researcher and archeologist at the Alexandria Center for Maritime Archeology, has in mind. Ziad dedicates his life’s work to unveiling the great city’s long history with climate change. Along with countless natural disasters, climate change has affected the city’s landscape and its entire coastal outline. The series of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis gradually shook the city's foundational rock and eventually led to its famous lighthouse toppling over in the 14th century.

Centuries later, when the water receded, the remnants of the lighthouse were discovered and so what is left of ancient Alexandria lives under ten meters of water. Despite Ziad’s deep interest and concern for the archaeological and historical aspects, he cares more about the devastatingly tangible effect climate change has had on the marine ecosystem and subsequently the local population’s livelihood.

Circumstances were made worse when the Egyptian government decided, in recent years, to build a harbor in the place where Alexandria's last fruitful lake existed. The lake was formed over a century ago near El Max and building the harbor in its place would lead to the displacement of the indigenous people who live from the fruit of this lake, and the complete erasure of a part of the city that was once called the Venice of Alexandria.


One of the people most affected by these changes as well as the government’s decisions regarding them is Nasser Zidan, an Agami Fisherman whose family has occupied the Keneseyya island for over a century.
Zidan has inherited his trade from his father and grandfather, but the quality of his life is quite different from the one his forefathers passed down to him. Both major canals in Alexandria have been polluted beyond repair over the past years with garbage and factory waste, which has all eventually made its way into the open sea. Zidan also blames the Port of Alexandria where the export of steel raw materials has contributed greatly to the disappearance of several species of algae.

This has also led to the disturbance of the local bird migration pathways which no longer fly into the city to feed on the algae. This disturbance to Zidan’s ecosystem is indisputable. Zidans’s livelihood along with all fishermen of the city are endangered because the amount of fish in the sea has decreased dramatically due to pollution, industrial fishing and other environmental factors.

In an entire year,  Zidan explains, he is able to fish on average for only 50–60 days every year due to the abundance of storms, another consequence of climate change. The only clean water is the one that belongs to the private seaside resorts due to its lucrative nature, which are, of course, prohibited for the public.

Art from Driftwood

However, the Alexandrian people are known for their resilience, adaptability and connection to nature. One such person is Dr. Shahir Magdy, an orthopedic surgeon who owns a woodworks business. Dr. Shahir’s relationship with wood starts in his childhood but what is most interesting about his business is that he uses driftwood from shipwrecks he finds in the sea. He then turns them into beautiful functional art pieces.

Tackle the Plastic at Alexandrias Coast

Most prominent of the city’s changes over the last few decades is the enormous amounts of plastic waste that washes up on their beaches every day. Tackling the serious issue of plastic pollution is Manar Ramadan, co-founder of Banalastic Egypt. Banlastic is an environmental initiative that was started by its three Alexandrian founders in 2018 with the purpose of banning single-use plastics in Egypt.

Despite Manar’s optimistic demeanor, it is obvious that their goal is nearly impossible to achieve. They started small by organizing community activities and events that were primarily geared towards spreading awareness such as workshops, green marathons and beach clean-ups. The next practical step will be to create alternatives for the plastic products they were advocating to ban. Their most arduous and important task would be to connect with policy makers and find alternative practices for the private sector to adopt in order to reach their eco-friendly goals.

Manar continues to show her passion for the cause, she says the conversation around the topic of the environment and plastic use is not a luxury because there is no plan B for her city’s future. More and more of Alexandria’s youth take initiative to tackle climate change, which is slowly devouring their beloved city. Without their government’s full dedication to reverse the effects of time and man, however, the once magnificent and powerful city might turn into a graveyard of its own beauty.