A few kilometers from Gaza’s southern border, a large lighthouse marks the entrance to Port Said and the Suez Canal. Completed in 1869 and designed by François Coignet, a pioneer in the development of structural, prefabricated, and reinforced concrete, the lighthouse was originally slated to be designed by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Bartholdi completed the lighthouse’s initial plan after visiting Egypt, where he was inspired by a local statue of a peasant woman in Luxor. His lighthouse scheme, however, was too expensive to be realized in Port Said, and so the project went to Coignet. Bartholdi, for his part, went on to further develop his lighthouse design in Paris alongside Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Later, on 28 October 1886, the pair’s completed statue was gifted to the United States by the French diplomat Ferdinand Marie, vicomte de Lesseps, who had in fact initiated the Suez Canal project.

“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” Bartholdi’s rendition of an Egyptian peasant woman, became a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognized the world over as a symbol of freedom and democracy. The statue, however, stands not only as a beacon of friendship and welcome, but as a monument to—and product of—multiple migrations.

It was more than just ideas and artifacts that migrated by way of the Suez Canal. The canal connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, offering a direct route from the North Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, to the Indian Ocean, and allowing a range of invasive species to tag along with the many ships that pass through it. As of today, this migration has fully transformed the biodiversity of the Mediterranean in what is named, after the vicomte, the Lessepsian migration.

The lionfish is one of the many species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other marine animals and plants that have, since the canal’s opening, migrated between the naturally separated Red and Mediterranean Seas. In its newfound Mediterranean habitat, the lionfish has rapidly spread by feeding on native fish, much to the dismay of local fishers. In Lebanon, fishers have fought back by making lionfish a staple food: at restaurants, locals “eat the predator.” In Greece, parts of lionfish bodies are transformed into jewelry and sold to tourists in local gift shops.

Conceptual sketch of a lighthouse in Port Said, Egypt, by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

Constructed to expedite the flow of extracted natural resources across the globe, large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Suez Canal, along with dams and smaller canals, have contributed to the transformation of marine biodiversity, tourism, and culinary experiences along the Mediterranean coast. In Gaza, seafood’s availability is contingent upon such large-scale transitions. But it also varies depending on Israeli fishing restrictions, which dictate the distance a fishing boat can dispatch from the shore. Each mile farther out to sea allows fishers access to different species; sardines and crabs can be captured within the imposed six-mile limit, while mackerel and tuna can only be caught farther out. Israel’s control not only affects Gazans’ freedom, livelihood, and diet, but also influences species richness and abundance in the Mediterranean.

Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory, 2021