In February, in what is being described as one of the worst ecological disasters in Israel’s history, a massive oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea caused hundreds of tons of tar to wash ashore along approximately 118 miles of the Israeli coastline and into southern Lebanon. The culprit is believed to be an as-yet-unidentified ship carrying oil from Iran to Syria.
The tar has had a devastating impact on the fragile marine ecosystem, covering the beaches and rocky shoreline, coating turtles and birds, and killing fish and other marine life. Immediate efforts were undertaken to stem the damage, with thousands of local volunteers participating in beach cleanups and rescuing thousands of turtles, birds, and other affected animals.
The Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation of America (INHFA) stepped up to provide support and established a dedicated website to provide information and seek help with the disaster and remediation (inhfa.org/joining-forces-to-save-israels-coastline). In response to the plea from INHFA, AWI provided an emergency grant to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Our contribution was used for essentials, including cleaning equipment for volunteers (e.g., coveralls, rakes, and shovels) and supplies to aid in the rehabilitation of rescued sea turtles.
The rapid and organized response helped alleviate some of the devastation. By the end of March, most Israeli beaches had reopened, though residue remained in the water, and significant quantities of oil and tar are believed to remain in rocky areas and less accessible parts of the coastline. The ultimate environmental cost of the incident will only be known over time. Monitoring, evaluation, and research throughout the coast and affected marine ecosystems continue. It is hoped that measures will be taken to help ensure such an environmental catastrophe doesn’t happen again.