Israel Turning to Breakwaters in Bid to Stem Cliff Erosion

Maritime defenses set to be built in Netanya, Herzliya and Ashkelon, but some are making waves about plan.

Ilan Assayag

Breakwaters are set to be built in a bid to save several coastal cliffs at risk of potential collapse, but some marine experts and surfer groups believe other options should have been considered.

Three weeks ago, the Committee for Preservation of the Coastal Environment approved a master plan for Netanya, which will protect three kilometers (1.8 miles) of eroding coastal cliffs between the Sironit and Argaman beaches.

According to an environmental impact assessment conducted by the Leshem-Sheffer consulting firm, this particular section of cliff is in a state of advanced erosion due to the pummelling it receives from the waves. In one particular place, there’s a narrow beach where the threat of falling rocks poses a serious danger to the public.

Under the first stage of the plan, three large offshore breakwaters will be built. Behind them, sand will be regularly deposited so at least some will reach adjacent beaches. Later on, more breakwaters will be built.

The plan also calls for eventually trying to shore up the cliffs themselves, using protective walls or special sheets filled with sand and placed at the foot of the cliffs.

“There’s no doubting the acute need to protect the shore and cliffs, which are suffering from ongoing deterioration – for the present and future generations,” the Netanya municipality said. “If we don’t do this, the cliff line will recede dozens of meters within a few decades.”

Netanya is not the only city preparing to protect its cliffs. Herzliya’s municipality has a two-year-old proposal to build more breakwaters along its coast, and experts say steps will also have to be taken along the Ashkelon coast.

In late 2013, the Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Preservation Government Company was incorporated, operating under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Ministry. It helped push for the approval of a national master plan, passed a few months ago, under which various coastal protection plans could be approved.

“Our objective is to minimize the waves’ contact with the cliffs,” explained the company’s CEO, Yaakov Becher. “There are several types of solutions besides breakwaters, whose success has already been proven in places like Tel Aviv. We must also determine from which sea sites we can mine sand. We’re talking about a large quantity of sand that’s lacking from the natural systems now, and we’ll have to mine from three different places on the sea floor.”

Not everyone thinks the government plans are the best solution, with marine geologist Dr. Yaakov Nir one of the chief critics. “This method [breakwaters] is expensive and invasive,” he said. “Fifty years ago, when this method became widespread, the beaches adjacent to the breakwaters were damaged and lost large amounts of sand. The sand would begin to accumulate between the breakwaters and the shore – but at the expense of the adjacent beach, which became narrower. There is, therefore, less protection of the cliff along the shore adjacent to the shore where there is a breakwater.”

Nir argued that other solutions are available that are less damaging to the environment. Sand feeding is one of them, as is erecting walls adjacent to the cliff itself.

Surfer groups are also concerned. “Erecting breakwaters will destroy surfing in Herzliya in the summer,” says Arthur Rashkovan, former director of the Israel Surfing Association. “There are 60,000 surfers in Israel, and one of their primary surfing spots is Herzliya. We think more sophisticated solutions can be found, like an artificial reef that would at least reduce the wave energy hitting the shore.”

Those involved in the breakwater project say it’s the product of years of local and international research, and insist it comes not a moment too soon, with some adjacent homes on cliff tops under threat.

“Finally the state is working to protect its friendliest border, which is receding,” says Netanya municipality’s Paul Vital. “The protection plan is the result of in-depth research done at the Technion with a group of advisers who are among the best in the country, and in cooperation with a research institute in Denmark. Breakwaters are a crucial and important measure. As part of the plan, there will also be sand feeding to prevent impact on the adjacent beaches to the north and south.”