Beachfronts for the 1%? A Slew of Planned Marinas Threaten to Crowd Out Israel’s Very Limited Coastline

A plan envisages nine new marinas as well as the expansion of the existing ones. ‘There’s no reason in the world to build new marinas for a handful of wealthy people,’ says the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel

A stretch of beach in central Israel.
Moti Milrod

A day at the beach in Israel may become a lot harder to attain in the coming years, as sandy expanses give way to a host of new and expanded marinas.

The Transportation Ministry recently began promoting a plan to build nine new marinas along Israel’s Mediterranean coast over the next several years. The plan has no only raised the hackles of environmentalists but has raised complaints that the rich are being favored over the rest.

Part of the national master plan for ports and marinas, it calls for increasing the number of slips in the marinas in Acre, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Herzliya and Tel Aviv and building new marinas in Acre, Hadera, Kiryat Yam, Nahariya, Netanya, Rishon Letzion and Tel Aviv. The plan would double, or even triple, the number of boat slips in Israel, to between 10,000 and 13,000, from about 2,900.

The marinas will not be exclusively for the use of boat owners, but serve as a dock for boats for rent and day cruises as well as marine sport centers.

But private boat owners are the plan’s main concern. It assumes that demand for slips in Israel outpaces the supply by about 1,500, which has means that many Israeli yacht owners have had to anchor their boats abroad. The shortage will grow over the next two decades, planners predict, as Israel’s population grows to 10 million. Demand for marinas will grow even more since 70% of Israelis will be living within 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of the shore.

The plan is already eliciting harsh criticism from the Environmental Protection Ministry, whose experts believe the number of new marinas should be reduced and are strongly opposed to establishing marinas in Rishon Letzion and Acre as well as on the Kiryat Yam-Kiryat Haim beach. They are also opposed to expanding the existing marina in Tel Aviv for fear of irreversible destruction of the shoreline.

It’s not just the marinas themselves, but the massive development that will come with them as well as new breakwaters and other changes that will destroy beaches used by the public while mainly benefiting the wealthy.

Little room to spare

A ministry paper obtained by TheMarker notes that Israel’s coastline is less than 200 kilometers, which is “very short relative to other countries, especially along the Mediterranean, and also relative to the size of the population that lives alongside it.”

Even without taking into account how much of the shoreline has been taken up over the years by infrastructure and other uses, there is less than 2.5 centimeters (a bit less than 1 inch) of coastline on average for every Israeli.

Moreover, the ministry takes issue with the forecast demand for yacht tourism. “Israel is not an attractive destination for yacht tourism because it does not have any islands, bays and inlets like Greece or Turkey,” it notes.

It even takes issue with the supposed shortage of slips that has forced boat owners to dock their vessels outside of Israel.

“We believe a considerable share of boat owners anchored abroad do this because the areas where they keep the boats are more attractive from a tourism point of view, their desire not to waste days sailing from Israel to these attractive destinations and the [high] fees for [Israeli] slips.”

“There’s no reason in the world for establishing new marinas for a handful of wealthy people, at the expense of the public beaches, which belong to all of us,” said the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

“The beaches are not for sale to the highest bidder. If there is a real need to provide for an increase in the number of yachts, it is possible to expand existing marinas without building new ones.”

The planned expansion of existing marinas is in some cases quite expansive. For example, the marina in Herzliya would grow from 765 slips to 810, with the addition of another 100 places for small boats. The Shavit Marina in Haifa would grow by an additional 200 to 400 slips, from 360 today.

However, the greater part of the plan consists of sites for building new marinas. In Rishon Letzion, the master plan proposes building a municipal marina for 700 to 1,000 boats. The marina will include an adjacent boatyard, a “marine education” center along and possibly large storage areas.

In Tel Aviv, the plan proposes several additional docks, some of which are already in the planning stages. The most important of these is the large municipal marina in the Sde Dov and Reading area, covering an area of about 60 dunams (15 acres) on the water and another 100 dunams on land, which would be able to accommodate about 1,000 boats.

The site designated for the new marina is east of the Reading Power Station, in the area that was previously used by the Israel Electric Corp. for unloading coal. Under the master plan, the area is also expected to include a boatyard, a marine education and culture center and storage facilities. There is also a proposal for an additional marina in the area of the shallow waters of the Tel Aviv port, where 100 to 150 small boats will be able to anchor.

Experts at the Environmental Protection Ministry are now demanding that a number of the planned marina be dropped from the new national master plan, citing concern about irreversible damage to the beaches. Prominent on this list is the beach at Rishon Letzion.

“Significant morphological and environmental effects can be expected, including destruction of the Rishon Letzion and Bat Yam beaches. Moreover, in Rishon Letzion, the fifth-largest city in Israel, there is barely one kilometer of beach. Even if the security establishment clears its facilities out of the area, there be a [public] beach in its stead, not a marina,” it said.

Sand concerns

Another place where a marina should not be built, the ministry says, is southern Acre. A marina there could cut off the water flow from Haifa Bay, clogging Acre Bay with sand and causing damage to the limestone concentrations located about 800 meters from the shore.

In Kiryat Yam-Kiryat Haim, a marina would interfere with the movement of the sandsand destroy the Kiryat Yam and the Rafael beaches. “Moreover, the master plan for Kiryat Yam, which was approved in August, stipulated that in light of the paucity of open public spaces in the city, the shoreline will make up in part for the lack. A marina would interfere with answering to the need for open areas.”

Expanding the existing marina in Tel Aviv is also problematic for similar reasons of the presence of a limestone ridge nearby and because of the unique configurations that constitute a diving site unique to the area.

The Environmental Protection Ministry officials also expressed concern about the fact that in nearly all the proposed new marinas include large areas for storing equipment belonging to the boat owners and even the boats themselves at the expense of beach footage.

The Planning Administration has responded that it “views the beaches as belonging to everyone” and that this principle will be at the base of the new master plan for marinas.

“The project is in the earliest phases of planning in which, at this stage, the existing supply and future demand in 2040 are still being examined. The position of the administration, as it has been presented in the various discussions, stipulated that it cannot meet all all the demand for anchorage because new slips will be located only within the jurisdictions of urban entities and beaches open to the general public will not be eliminated,” it said.

The decision about the required number of marinas and their locations will be determined by the National Planning and Building Commission. Before the recommendations are finalized there will be a hearing at which the public will be able to hear the findings and express its opinion, it said.