All of Israel’s beaches are closed and could remain that way for months, if not years, after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. Authorities are calling it “one of the most serious ecological disasters” in the nation’s history.
Last week’s severe winter storms pushed the first evidence of the tar onto shore, but Israel may have known it was heading its way for a few weeks now. The investigation is under a gag order, but officials have said the spill from a crude oil tanker operating illegally in the Mediterranean Sea, sometime between February 6 to 11.
“They either spilled the oil from the ship into the water, or a malfunction occurred, and they did not report it,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel. “Finding those responsible for the disaster is a complicated process, but we will do everything in our power to find those culpable.”
The entire Israeli coast is affected as well as into Lebanon. A mass cleanup is underway with volunteers and even army units deployed to remove the pollution from the shoreline. The cleanup could take months, if not years.
“The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the Nature and Parks Authority said. “According to field assessments, it is evident that these complex and strenuous operations will be required to continue over a long period of time.”
The oil slick has resulted in devastation to sea life and marine ecosystems. Dead turtles and whales have washed up onshore. Israel has managed to save some sea turtles who made it to shore alive.
While the long-term damage from the spill is unknown, some experts say the pollution from the 1,000 tons of tar – so far – that has washed up on shore could break down into invisible particles that could be absorbed into the air and drinking water.