Barbecues, Cars and Litter Endangering Rare Reef Off Unauthorized Haifa Beach

Every Saturday dozens of swimmers come to enjoy the pristine sand at Shikmona Beach, until recently an unauthorized swimming beach near the southern entrance to Haifa, and the adjacent marine nature preserve. But over the past few weeks, dozens of cars have been parking just a few meters from the water, and people have been firing up barbecues, leaving behind plastic packaging and food scraps.

The Shikmona site includes an ancient mound which has yielded archaeological findings such as pottery and mosaic floors from the Late Bronze, Phoenician and Byzantine periods. At its foot is a secluded beach far from the bustling, officially-designated swimming areas like the Dado and Students beaches. A few meters from the knoll is a marine nature preserve containing reefs with colonies of snails, combtooth blenny fish and peacock fish.

According to experts, the reefs are extremely fragile. There are only a few left in the Mediterranean Sea, and they are quickly disappearing. Pollution from cars and garbage is likely to damage the Shikmona marine preserve.

But despite this fact, every week dozens of drivers park their cars near the water on Shikmona Beach - even though this is against the law.

Inspectors from the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Society, the local government and the police are supposed to enforce the law. But a police vehicle was spotted among the illegally-parked cars on the beach last Saturday.

A marine police vessel sailed past the shore in the afternoon, on its way south to stop cars from driving on the Dado and Students beaches. But it completely ignored the cars parked at Shikmona.

At the end of May, the ministerial committee on legislation approved an amendment to the law forbidding driving on beaches, and parks protection inspectors were grated the authority to bring suspects in for questioning. It was further decided to let courts penalize wrongdoers with fines to repair the damage. But is it possible to repair damage to the rare reefs of Shikmona Beach?

The Haifa municipality said in response that it is looking into the matter.

The district police office responded that it concentrates on crowded swimming beaches. Police spokesman Superintendent Moshe Witzman called the Haaretz findings at Shikmona Beach grave, and said that complaints should be lodged.

The Nature and National Parks Protection Society informed Haaretz that Shikmona Beach has been recognized as an official national park by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and that the parks protection organization, in cooperation with the Haifa municipality and the police, will move to block vehicle access to the marine preserve.