Imported Sand to Shore Up Coastal Cliffs at Risk of Collapse

A number of attempts have been made in recent years to supply sand along the cliffs, but embarrassingly, much of what was distributed has already disappeared.

Coastal cliffs in danger of collapse at Yanai Beach north of Netanya, December 22, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Ships cruising close to the shore and shooting out large quantities of sand from a long pipe will most likely become a common sight along Israel’s beaches in the coming years. The country's beaches are constantly shrinking, leaving the coastal cliffs increasingly exposed to the power of the waves, which threaten to bring them crashing down.

Last week, the National Planning and Building Council approved a plan for protecting the cliffs, which includes artificially supplying sand. Ships will spread the sand, some of which will be imported from private bodies overseas, along the shore.

A new plan developed by the government-owned Mediterranean Cliffs Coastal Preservation Company in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry will include various methods to protect the cliffs, such as breakwaters and rock seawalls. Beaches, however, provide the best defense, and restoring them is part of MCCP's plan. In many places, the sand has disappeared because carious maritime structures such as harbors and marinas built along the coast block its natural flow.

Removing the sand that has piled up in harbors and marinas will be a major source for the sand that will be spread along the beaches, but today this amount is still inadequate to save the cliffs; the government will have to import sand in the early stages of the project. Any sand that cannot be immediately applied to the beaches will be stored on the seafloor near Herzliya, Ashkelon and Netanya, the three cities whose coastal cliffs are at the greatest risk of collapse.

These offshore storage sites are only to be used as a last resort, says Yaakov Bachar, the head of MCCP. "It could happen that the planning process for some beaches will not be completed [in time] and in this case we may have to store the sand at sea."

A number of attempts have been made in recent years to supply sand along the cliffs, but embarrassingly, much of what was distributed has already disappeared. Bachar says the latest plan includes major changes to solve this problem. MCCP will be using larger sand granules, which will make them less likely to drift or be blown away. More importantly, it will spread much more sand at every spot along the beach, at least 10 times as much as was distributed in earlier attempts, he says.

Ashkelon, with its disappearing cliffs and beaches, will be the first city to receive the treatment.

Not everyone is pleased with the new plans. Marine geologist Dr. Yaakov Nir is worried. Foreign sand can bring with it all types of non-native animal and plant species which can turn into invasive species that harm the local marine ecosystem, he says. Alien minerals may also cause problems in the future by changing the original composition of the coastal environment.

Bachar, however, says that all the imported sand will undergo the necessary tests to make sure it is completely safe for the environment.

In the future, most of the sand is expected to come from the continental shelf, at depths of up to 25 meters. But in order to mine sand from these areas, MCCP must come up with a special plan for the coastal areas. Until then, sand importers will reap a bonanza.