Thousands Volunteer to Clean Up Israeli Beaches in Wake of Oil Spill

The Ashkelon coastline spill may be under control, but the nationwide operation is demanding Israel – one of the world's worst offenders for beach waste – take responsibility

Zafrir Rinat
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Waste collected at the Sea of ​​Galilee, October 30, 2020.
Waste collected at the Sea of ​​Galilee, October 30, 2020.Credit: Daniel Vaknin/Kinneret Authority
Zafrir Rinat

Thousands of Israelis participated in major beach clean-up efforts at a hundred locations along the country's coastline on Friday as an oil spillage in Ashkelon forced the Health Ministry to order the closure of the Ashkelon desalination plant.

Although the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company claims extent of the spill was small, the local desalination plant was shut down out of caution. “The leak was halted immediately and emergency teams were activated,” the company commented. “The incident is under control and is in the final stages.”

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Meanwhile, thousands of volunteers and activists are participating in an operation at a hundred sites along the Mediterranean coast, Lake Kinneret and the Gulf of Eilat to clean up the beaches throughout Friday afternoon.

An oil stain from the spillage in Ashkelon, Israel, October 30, 2020.Credit: Yitzhak Kodowitzky/Environmental Protection Ministry

Stations located at the sites are providing information about maritime and beach issues. The operation spans from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Ashkelon in the south. Organizers say the goal of the activity is to influence decision-makers in three areas – establishing additional maritime reserves, forbidding people from bringing disposable dishes and utensils to beaches and enforcing laws protecting the beaches.

The Mediterranean Sea Coalition, made up of a host of groups including Mediterranean People, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Life and Environment, Green Course, Zalul Environmental Association, EcoOcean, the Israel Scouts movement, the European Union and the Kinneret Authority. Other partners include the U.S. Embassy in Israel, various municipalities, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israeli Diving Association.

Waste collected at a beach in Nahariya in northern Israel, October 30, 2020.Credit: Environmental Protection Ministry

Elsewhere in the world, environmental groups held week-long beach cleaning operations, usually in the third week of September. Veridis, the waste management company, will transport the collected garbage to a sorting facility at the Hiriya dump. Some will be used as biofuel to replace polluting fuel in ovens for producing cement at the Nesher factory in Ramle, while other waste will be transported for recycling. The remainder will be buried.

“We all hope the mass activity will influence decision-makers to act for the sea’s future,” commented the national director of the Mediterranean People Campaign, Michael Raphael. “Aquatic fauna and flora provide for us existential services – air for breathing, a source of food, an infrastructure for agriculture – and we have to protect them. Israel pledged to declare 10 percent of its coastline as aquatic reserves, and it has only declared so far 3 percent, something that endangers many aquatic species. Aquatic nature reserves are the only scientifically-backed remedy that can provide significant protection and ensure the sea’s future.”

Analysts estimate that about eight million tons of plastic waste is thrown into the seas and oceans annually. A national report on Israeli aquatic waste for 2019 compiled by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research found that 70 percent of waste in the sea is composed of parts of plastic bags and packaging, with disposable masks and gloves were added to the mix this year.

This week, the International Union for Conversation of Nature released a report on the scope of plastic waste in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the report, over a million tons of plastic waste have accumulated there already, the rate of waste is 229,000 tons per year, with the worst offenders being Egypt, Italy and Turkey.

Israel is one of the leaders in the amount of waste per kilometer of beach. The report warn that if steps aren’t taken to reduce the pollution, it will double within the next two decades. They note that the rivers such as the nile are the main avenues through which plastic waste reaches the sea in many countries. The report states that if the largest 100 cities around the sea will improve the way they collect and treat waste, the total amount of plastic waste reaching the sea will be reduced by 25 percent.

This is not the first spillage involving Israel's state-owned Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, which was ordered to pay 100 million shekels (approximately $30 million) in compensation for a crude oil leak into a wildlife preserve in the south in 2014, representing one of the country's worst ecological disasters.

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