In light of the dire need to protect the sea we have formed a coalition of organizations and citizens, to fight to establish protect marine reserves along Israel’s coast.

 

The State of the Oceans Report published this year presents a problematic picture. Israel’s marine space is not protected, maintained, planned out, or regulated, nor is it prepared for pollution events. For many years, the Mediterranean Sea has suffered from negligence, and the state has no infrastructure in place for managing it.

 

In the state’s absence, a number of players have entered, including infrastructure corporations, fishermen, and others, who have acted without adequate environmental oversight.

Until recently, the Mediterranean Sea adjacent to Israel’s coast was an open area that did not attract public attention. This is slowly changing. Between Israel’s reliance on desalination as the main source of drinking water and the discovery of natural gas in Israel’s economic waters, the Mediterranean Sea has become a key resource for the State of Israel’s functioning; maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem is a national interest.

We believe that establishing, enforcing, and regulating marine nature reserves constitutes the optimal solution for conservation of the sea. Numerous studies from around the world have emphasized the importance of marine reserves for maintaining sound functioning of marine ecosystems. Within a few years, the protection of areas from fishing and infrastructure developments leads to marked recovery of the fish population within the reserve and even in adjacent areas.

In Israel, only 0.25% of Israel’s territorial waters are protected as established nature reserves (in contrast to 25% of the land area). The few protected spaces that exist do not actually receive sufficient protection due to a lack of resources dedicated to enforcement regulation in marine reserves; currently only the Rosh Hanikra Reserve is effectively protected.

We must establish large areas as nature reserves in order to facilitate protection of entire marine ecosystems and of large marine animals who roam over large areas.

SPNI’s plan to expand marine reserves to 20% of our territorial waters has recently been submitted to the planning authorities. The proposed program also covers extensive areas of stony reefs and soft substrates. We hope that the plan will be authorized as soon as possible. Nevertheless, we note that establishing nature reserves is not sufficient for conserving ecosystems; adequate resources must be allocated to for enforcement and monitoring in order to achieve effective regulation.

Moreover, it is important that a survey be conducted in order to identify stony reefs and unique habitats within Israel’s economic waters, outside of the territorial waters, and to protect these sites as part of marine nature reserves. In order to do so, the appropriate legal tools must be secured through the “Marine Areas Law,” which regulates legal conduct in Israel’s economic waters.

Marine Areas Law

The Marine Areas Law is intended to regulate state law in the economic waters of the Mediterranean Sea, in particular with respect to gas and crude oil drilling. The proposed version of the law does not grant adequate status to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and leaves the entire decision-making process in the hands of one body, the Ministry of Energy, which has one clear interest – development. This is an unbalanced and dangerous situation.

The Mediterranean Sea is a crucial source of drinking water for the Israeli public, a source of food (fish), of oxygen production, and of climate change mediation. Furthermore, the Mediterranean Sea is home to dolphins, sea turtles, rare fish including tuna, and hundreds of other marine species. Unfortunately, mishaps and disasters during gas and crude oil drilling are not a slight possibility but a real issue that is already relevant.

Such an event occurred in 2010 in the USA, in the Gulf of Mexico, in a disaster of tremendous proportions.

Leaks and small mishaps occur regularly in the Mediterranean Sea – we simply do not hear about them because there is no public oversight and accountability. The Minister for Environmental Protection must accompany the planning and execution processes with respect to environmental aspects of the work. We and nature itself deserve to be represented in the face of the narrow interests of energy companies.

This year we demanded and we continue to demand from the Economic Affairs Committee an amendment to the Marine Areas Law to include:

  1. Establishment of a supplementary planning committee (SPC) to maintain the decision-making balance between development and conservation, while also maintaining public transparency.

  2. Effective separation between the process of licensing gas and crude oil drilling facilities, conducted by the Ministry of Energy, and the environmental supervision conducted by the Ministry for Environmental Protection: equal rights and independence for the Ministry for Environmental Protection when making decisions about authorizing energy drilling in the economic waters, with the right to veto in instances of severe risk to the environment.

  3. Maintaining transparency and granting the public right of first refusal during the drilling authorization process.

  4. Delineating marine reserves in the Marine Areas Law for protecting suitable natural areas via strict conservation.

A team will be established for public monitoring of the Leviathan oil rig; manpower positions will be allocated to the Ministry for Environmental Protection in order to increase supervision in the sea.

This is a significant achievement with respect to the supervision of the Leviathan oil rig that will be constructed off the coast at Dor beach. In an agreement with the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry for Environmental Protection, in which the organization Adam Teva V’Din is also a partner, it was decided to establish a “Leviathan Rig-Development Supervision Team.”

A joint team has been established, involving government ministries, environmental organizations, and the public. Its role is to monitor the effects of the Leviathan rig for natural gas production – established in the sea about 10 km from the Dor beach on the Carmel coast – on the environment, sea, and air, to ensure that all of the obligations with respect to the rig are being fulfilled. In addition, following our correspondence with the Ministry of Finance, about 20 new positions have been authorized for the Ministry for Environmental Protection, to facilitate implementation of the national preparation plan for sea pollution events.

Fishing Reform

In January 2017, the general fishing reform went into effect. Here we present the reform’s main achievements, which were already tangible in 2018:

  • Ceasing the use of damaging fishing methods: ceasing the use of trawler fishing in some of the sensitive areas – covering one-third of the Israeli Mediterranean Sea region – thanks to the pooling of 20 million NIS from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). This money was used to compensate the trawler fishermen in northern Israel (Kishon port) and will close the northern third of the Mediterranean Sea to trawler fishing.

  • Prohibiting trawler fishing for 3 months during the breeding season.

  • Ceasing fishing by scuba diving.

  • Ceasing fishing during the spawning season, except for the use of fishing rods on the beach and fishing more than 12 nautical miles from the coast.

  • Determining daily fishing limits for recreational fishermen.

  • Increasing the permitted length for fishing of cod species.

  • Upgrading enforcement – this year, fishing regulation was transferred to the auspices of INPA, through four designated teams dedicated to this purpose. This will actualize the standards that were approved by the government. The Ministry of Agriculture maintains the right to press charges.

  • Protection of endangered species.

This year saw an update to the declaration of protected natural assets, including a number of endangered species in the Mediterranean Sea, including cod species and bluefin tuna. Minister Elkin, who was requested to sign the declaration, initially supported the process but, following public pressure from the fishermen, backed down from his decision. Due to the circumstances, we initiated an internet campaign in an attempt to influence the minister’s decision and to declare the dusky grouper and bluefin tuna as protected species. Our call attracted several successful bloggers – the Perl brothers, who produced a video calling on the public to send requests to Minister Elkin to declare the dusky grouper and bluefin tuna protected species. The video garnered 100,000 views and thousands of shares. However, the decision has not yet been made. We will continue to work to achieve the declaration of their status as protected species.

Monitoring and Enforcement

We developed a hotline for reporting real time hazards in the Mediterranean Sea: The Sea Watch application.

Reports are submitted by the public using a GPS-based application. The application operates in partnership with treatment and enforcement bodies in the Mediterranean Sea. All reports are transferred immediately to the enforcement bodies, by SMS and an email that includes all of the details of the event.

Platform for Mediterranean Sea Urchin Reports

Sea urchins, which have historically been common on Israel’s coast, have almost completely disappeared in recent years. This is likely due to the warming of the oceans and seas in recent decades as well as suppression by invasive species. Monitoring changes in the size of the remaining sea urchins and the structure of their populations can provide an understanding of their disappearance. The “Search for a Sea Urchin” project, in partnership with Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR), monitors this trend of disappearance; as part of this project, we call on divers, sea lovers, and the general public visiting the Mediterranean Sea to document and report observations of sea urchins.

Hof Karmel Sea Community

In the last year, SPNI and INPA, joined forces with sea lovers and conservationists in the Haifa region to establish a local ‘sea community,’ a source of local, citizen manpower that works to raise public awareness of the marine reserve in Shikmona, to help turn Shikmona into a flourishing marine reserve. More than 100 activists, mostly from Haifa, joined the project.

In the last year, activists have also been participating in a fascinating training program that provides a ‘deep sea dive’ into the wonders of the Mediterranean Sea and the threats it faces. Leading professionals in the field of research and conservation of marine environments have taught community activists about marine ecology, archeology, fishing and regulation, marine waste, marine reserves, and citizen science. They activists were led on field trips that introduced them to ecosystems in the reserve, including a visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Center.

Beyond acquiring professional knowledge, the community began working on the ground: relocating protected sea daffodils from the Hubert Humphrey boardwalk project to within the borders of the nearby national park, monitoring algae on the rocks of the reserve in collaboration with IOLR, and promoting educational activities.

On World Oceans Day, commemorated in June, visitors participated in a variety of exciting activities at Shikmona beach, Betzet beach, and Hakshatot beach, meticulously organized by SPNI and activists from the sea community.

We believe that establishing, enforcing, and regulating marine nature reserves constitutes the optimal solution for conservation of the sea. Currently, only Rosh Hanikra Reserve is effectively protected. In order to protect marine nature, we will continue to work towards establishing large reserves to facilitate protection of entire ecosystems and of large marine animals with extensive living areas.

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