Israel, the worst environmental catastrophe of the last ten years

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The entire Israeli Mediterranean coast has been reached by a black tide of tar driven by the storm of recent days. It’s a terrible environmental disaster. According to experts, the worst in decades. The government announced on Sunday, until further notice, a ban on bathing, maritime sports, and camping on the 170 km of coastline, on the day that hotels and tourist establishments reopened after months of closure due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Over the weekend, thousands of volunteers mobilized to clean up the beaches, trying to rescue turtles and other marine animals covered by polluting material, but the undertaking seems endless: in four hours, three tons of tar were collected only in an area of 200 meters. It will take weeks, perhaps months, to complete the cleanup, according to the assessment of the Israeli Authority for Nature and National Parks.

Last week, a 19-meter-long baby whale was found dead on Nitzanim beach in southern Israel. Yesterday, the officials of the Authority together with the Cetacean Research Center carried out an autopsy on the huge carcass weighing 30 tons – later buried in a chasm near the beach – and examinations are underway to determine whether the cause of the death of this protected example is due to the ecological disaster.

The cause of the environmental catastrophe seems to be attributable to the spill of crude oil from one or more oil tankers sailing off the Mediterranean, 50 km from the Israeli coast. A week ago, the European Maritime Safety Agency identified a large suspicious spot, and based on this report, the Ministry of the Environment is checking a dozen ships that have passed through the restricted area.

“We are doing everything possible to identify those responsible, but this catastrophe is a clear warning to the need to free ourselves from the yoke of polluting fuels and to complete the transition to renewables as soon as possible,” said Environment Minister Gila Gamliel during an inspection with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But environmental associations are accusing the large energy supply projects that Israel is investing in, including the installation of a large platform for the extraction of natural gas a few kilometers from the Mediterranean coast and the recent signing of an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to facilitate the oil transport to Europe, through the pipeline that connects the city of Eilat on the Red Sea, and the port of Ashkelon, on the Mediterranean coast. “An incident smaller than the one we are witnessing today risks causing irreparable damage to the Eilat coral reef,” reads a petition.

For Israel, the need to preserve the marine ecosystem away from sources of pollution is of primary importance considering that the country obtains about 55% of its drinking water from desalination plants.According to Professor Colin Price, head of the Environmental Studies department at Tel Aviv University, there is a large amount of tar that has probably penetrated under the rocks, damaging the seabed and the organisms living there. The damage examination can only be completed with the attenuation of the high tide which seems destined to continue for a few more days with a new wave of bad weather arriving.

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