Photo Credit: Shlomit Shavit / Nature & Parks Authority
Nature & Parks Authority employees and volunteers clean up tar and debris from the beach, Feb. 18, 2021.

Several beaches from Galilee to Ashkelon have been contaminated in the last two days with large amounts of tar from an unknown source. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, 16 coastal municipalities have experienced a severe oil spill resulting in a heavy layer of tar on their beaches.

The most likely explanation is the illegal dumping of oil from a vessel that was passing outside Israel’s territorial water.

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The pollution is expected to continue in the coming days and may be exacerbated by the strong winds that carry it to the beaches.

Sea turtle smeared in tar rescued on the beach, Feb. 18, 2021. / Shlomit Shavit / Nature & Parks Authority

On Wednesday morning municipalities were receiving complaints about a large amount of tar that had been deposited on several beaches. Patrols conducted by officials from the Ministry of Environmental Protection observed that the pollution had spread along many beaches. Exceptionally large deposits of tar were found in the Hof Ha’Carmel area, especially the Galim, Dor Habonim, and Gedor Sea Reserve beaches. Smaller concentrations of tar were found on the Sharon coast, Poleg in south Netanya, and Beit Yanai. Tar was found further south as well, on the beaches of Palmachim, Ashdod, Nitzanim, and Ashkelon.

Nature & Parks Authority employees and volunteers clean up tar and debris from the beach, Feb. 18, 2021. / Shlomit Shavit / Nature & Parks Authority

Ruthi Yahel, a marine ecologist at Nature and Parks Authority, said: “In the Dor Habonim Reserve, the most sensitive natural treasure is the flat rocks that were created over centuries of wave erosion, and the pools that were formed between them offer shelter to snails. Our biggest concern is that the tar will stick to them and harm them. On Sunday, when the sea level goes down, we’ll find out the extent of the damage.”

Sea bird rescued from tar pollution on the beach, , Feb. 18, 2021. / Shlomit Shavit / Nature & Parks Authority

“We’ve seen only recently a return of the dendropoma petraeum snail to the flat rocks after 25 years of not being observed there, and we fear that the tar will kill them,” Yahel explained. “This snail, which helps protect the shore and the cliff above it with a substance it secretes, was almost completely extinct. But a new survey of Nature and Parks Authority discovered these snails in several areas of the country, including the Dor Habonim Reserve.”

“We also fear that the tar will penetrate the soil, which is why we are trying to collect the tar from the soil. We will perform a damage assessment by the end of the storm. On Sunday, we’ll continue the cleaning operation. Volunteers are welcome to contact the Nature and Parks Authority hotline – *3639,” the ecologist said.

Dr. Revital Goldschmid of the Haifa Environmental Research Center demanded that the Ministry of Environmental Protection locate the source of the pollution. “The beach is rife with pungent and sour oil odors,” she said. “Animals on the beach and people who came to the beach to do sports are hurt by this failure, and that’s before we look at what’s going on in the water,” she said.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.