Volunteers Mobilize to Clean Israel’s Tar-Coated Beaches

Israeli volunteers clean tar off the Gan Or beach following an offshore oil spill which drenched most of the Israeli coastline. (Flash90)

A small Israeli task force scoured the sands of a nature reserve along Israel’s Mediterranean coast Monday, taking part in a widening effort to clean up a disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country’s shoreline.

The roughly dozen workers on Palmachim Beach were among thousands of volunteers, soldiers and park rangers who have taken up the task of extracting millions of tiny globs of sticky black tar that have coated the Israeli shoreline in recent days after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Green bags filled with tar-coated shells and detritus quickly piled up on the beach. The ministry and environmental groups estimate at least 1,000 tons of tar washed up on the coast.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry is investigating the cause of the oil spill, believed to have taken place between Feb. 6-10. On Monday, the ministry released a court-issued gag order on all details of the investigation into the party responsible. The Nature and Parks Authority has called it one of the country’s “worst ecological disasters” to date.

The ministry said it received no prior warning from any international organizations about the spill.

An acrid petroleum filled the air and a black streak at the high tide mark ran the length of the shore. It was just a tiny stretch of an oil slick that has coated almost the entire length of Israel’s 120-mile-long (195-kilometer) coastline.

On Sunday, the ministry urged Israelis to stay away from the beaches, citing serious health hazards posed by the tar. It has caused extensive damage to wildlife.

Project 500, an Israeli initiative akin to the U.S.’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, is funded by the Defense Ministry and has put 500 people left unemployed because of the coronavirus recession to work for the past few months cleaning national parks and nature reserves.

On Monday, President Reuven Rivlin visited the beach at Herzliya, where he thanked the “wonderful citizens” who came out to give a hand to clean up the beaches and to save the animals affected by the pollution.

“What we see here is an eyesore and heartache,” said the president at the sight of the polluted beach. “These sights are a wake-up call. We must work on a national environmental protection plan to ensure that events like this do not surprise us. It is a national duty that we must not neglect. This is the only way we can protect our children’s and grandchildren’s futures, so that they live in a safe, clean and unpolluted environment.”

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