Israeli Beaches Polluted With Tar, Possibly From Oil Tankers, Prompting Fear for Wildlife

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Tar pollution on sea turtle
Tar pollution on sea turtleCredit: Shlomi Ben Shimol / Israel Nature and Parks Authority

A string of beaches along the Mediterranean coast from the Galilee to Ashkelon have become polluted over the past two days with large quantities of tar from an unknown source. The affected beaches stretch through 16 local communities, the Environmental Protection Ministry said.

The most probable explanation for the pollution is that it was illegally discharged by tanker ships in the region. The assumption is that the pollution will continue to surface over the next several days and may even worsen due to the strong winds that have been buffeting the shoreline.

The presence of large quantities of tar on several beaches was first reported Wednesday morning. Staff from the Environmental Protection Ministry who surveyed the coast then found it on a large number of beaches. Particularly large quantities were found in the Carmel Coast region on the Galim, Dor, Habonim and Gedur beaches. Smaller quantities of tar were found on the Sharon, Poleg and Beit Yanai beaches. The pollution was also found farther south at Palmahim, Ashdod, Nitzanim and Ashkelon.

Some wildlife was found covered with oil, including sea turtles and some birds. Representatives from the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Mikhmoret has so far received three turtles that suffered harm from the pollution. Based on the consistency of the pollutant, it appears to have come from oil tankers that sailed near Israel’s coast.

Tar pollution on Hadera beach.Credit: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Dr. Revital Goldschmidt of the Haifa Environmental Research Center demanded that the Environment Ministry identify the source of the pollution, noting the strong odor of oil along the coast. “Wildlife along the coast and the people who have come to the beach to engage in sports have been harmed by this mishap, and that’s even before we’ve examined what has happened inside the (coastal) strip of sea,” she said.

In the past, tar pollution on the country’s Mediterranean beaches was common, but it stopped after international regulations were beefed up to ban the discharge of excess fuel into the sea. For the time being, the Environmental Protection Ministry has instructed local governments along the coast to gear up for an emergency cleanup effort. Minister Gila Gamliel instructed the chairman of the ministry’s Marine Protection Fund, ministry director general David Yahalomi, to contact the members of the fund for approval of urgent cleanup funding to the local authorities, the ministry said.

On Thursday, following the major storms along the coast the day before, staff from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and volunteers from the nonprofit group EcoOcean were dispatched to begin cleaning up the pollution.

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