Beach - Daniel Tchetchik - 21072011
A man walking by cliffs at Herzliya’s Apollonia Beach, with a sign warning of landslides. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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The public is deprived of free access to nearly one-tenth of Israel's Mediterranean beachfront, and of this, at least half is entirely off-limits to the public, either due to the presence of infrastructure facilities or because it is a military zone, according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The INPA gathered these findings as part of an effort to draft a policy paper on preserving nature along the coast and in the adjoining sea. The document was formally presented at Apollonia National Park on the Herzliya coast yesterday, which also marked the last day on the job of the INPA's director, Eli Amitay.

The policy paper sets the ambitious goal of creating four large new marine nature reserves, as well as annexing areas of the sea to existing national parks along the coast at locations such as Caesarea and Atlit.

According to the INPA's Nir Engert, 21.3 kilometers of coastline, or about 10 percent of the country's Mediterranean shore, is not freely accessible to the public. Of that figure, 2.1 kilometers are private beach, such as a portion of the Achziv beach, while another 3.9 kilometers consist of beaches where admission fees are charged.

The parks authority itself is responsible for a substantial portion of the beachfront where parking fees are charged. Amitay said this was necessary because in locations such as the Palmahim beach, the authority had to invest NIS 1.5 million to rehabilitate and clean the beach.

"We don't get outside funding for these operations, so we will continue to charge a fee," he said.

However, the INPA has decided to ensure that pedestrians have free access to all beachfront nature reserves and national parks.

The most surprising finding released by the authority yesterday is that outside the cities, a substantial portion of the country's coastline - 90 kilometers - is either in a nature reserve or a national park. Close to half of these 90 kilometers lie in areas that are not officially designated as parkland or nature reserves, but that do appear as such in master plans. Parts of the coastline are also in closed military zones.

According to the INPA's marine ecologist, Ruth Yahel, one of the main goals of the policy paper is to spur the declaration of parts of the sea itself as nature reserves - specifically, areas where infrastructure development or fishing is currently causing substantial damage to nature. The designation of the reserves would be based on a comprehensive survey that the INPA carried out with the aid of research boats. This survey revealed the extent of underwater nature off Israel's coast.

The areas targeted for protected status are off Rosh Hanikra, Neveh Yam (near Atlit ), Poleg (south of Netanya ) and Nitzanim (near Ashkelon ). Yahel said these areas would not be off limits and activity would not be barred there completely, but there would be limitations on activities such as fishing.

The INPA's plan to extend the jurisdiction of seaside national parks is also meant to preserve the ruins of ancient coastal cities and ports, some of which are now underwater. For example, a Herodian palace near Caesarea that is not currently within the area of the national park would become part of the park, Engert explained.

Local authorities are already beginning to take the INPA's data on the importance of preserving coastline into account. The Haifa municipality, for example, in the master plan it is preparing, has recognized the significance of a stretch of beach where turtles lay their eggs and which should therefore be protected, Engert said.