Report: Expansion of Israel's Ports Harms Marine Environment

Finance Ministry document highlights Israel’s dependence on the sea, but lacks full information on security grounds.

Albatross Aerial Photography

A comprehensive report on Israel’s marine environment issued last month by the Finance Ministry’s Planning Administration demonstrates how dependant Israel is on the sea and how the need for additional infrastructures is increasing the stress on this environment.

According to the report, for example, the amount of fuel coming into Haifa Port is going to increase and it will be necessary to mine huge quantities of sand to expand the country’s ports. The planning administration refused to publicize complete information about these development plans on information security grounds, which has incensed environmental groups.

The report finds that 99 percent of Israel’s trade is conducted by sea; nearly half of the energy to produce electricity comes from offshore gas drilling and half the country’s drinking water is now produced by desalination. The power plants along the country’s shoreline produce some 60 percent of the country’s electricity. The fuel depot in Haifa is to be expanded to take in 200,000 tons of fuel, on top of the two million tons that already pass through there annually.

According to the report, there is no coordination or exchange of information between those managing the undersea gas pipelines and those responsible for communication cables, and there are 150 drainage openings into the sea whose legal and planning status with regard to preventing pollution was never regulated.

“The lack of organized relations between the engineering infrastructures in accordance with the economy’s priorities; the decentralization of authority between the various government ministries; and the absence of a comprehensive engineering perspective are conflicts that are liable to endanger the country’s highest-priority infrastructure,” the report states.

There are 121 marine structures along the Mediterranean coast, some of which block the natural movement of sand along the beaches. Some of these structures, including the Haifa and Ashdod ports, are going to be expanded, which will mean removing hundreds of millions of cubic meters of sand. This will expedite the regression of the natural shoreline, which will not get this sand, and could cause serious damage to the ecological environment of the sea itself.

Attempts to artificially “feed” sand to the areas north of the ports to make up for the reduction of natural sand flow may not be effective, the report said. Such a project was undertaken north of Ashdod Port, but a year later there was no trace of the sand that had been deposited there and it isn’t clear where it went.

There are no more berths available for anchoring either pleasure or fishing boats anywhere along the coast, and it may be necessary to develop additional marinas. Local fisherman are overfishing, undermining the ability of fish habitats to renew themselves. Laws aimed at protecting the fish are barely enforced for lack of interest and budget, the report said. “The Agriculture Ministry’s fisheries division has three inspectors whose vehicles were taken away from them and a boat that barely functions,” it said.

The most important part of the report was meant to be the details of future plans for developing infrastructures and facilities. But the title page of that chapter carries the following notice: “Because of information security constraints, we cannot disseminate the full report to the public. For this reason, the description of the various plans does not appear in this report.”

Attorney Amit Bracha, executive director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din), said: “This policy paper does not provide a response to the chaos that prevails in the sea. It has no binding legal status and large parts of it are being kept under outlandish secrecy that is liable to serve irrelevant interests. To assure management that balances all the interests, we are advancing a bill that will lead to the optimal management of the [marine] environment through an independent authority. All this is in recognition of the sea as a national resource and a public asset.”