Israel seeks to declare marine reserves

Now that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) has managed to expand the areas officially recognized as nature reserves, it is working to improve the situation in Israel’s territorial waters.

Faced with the introduction of undersea infrastructure cables, the INPA also wants to see a number of underwater areas declared nature reserves, and to deal with the depletion of fish in the Mediterranean.

According to the INPA’s marine ecologist, Dr. Ruth Yahel, at least one-tenth of undersea areas should be defined nature reserves and subject to various limitations.

“Today only 8.9 square kilometers out of 4,200 square kilometers of territorial waters are defined as nature reserves,” she notes.

“We are formulating a policy to present to the INPA institutions and we will then try to obtain the approval of the planning institutions,” she says.

Yahel says three main areas should be identified as marine reserves: in the North, from the northern border to Tel Kziv, in the South, near the Gaza Strip, and in the center, in an area yet to be defined.

“We also want to declare a nature reserve that will protect the part of Mount Carmel that juts into the sea,” she adds.

Yahel says that the large variety of plants, animals and corals, as well as undersea canyons and calcareous limestone ridges as deep as 40 meters could be at risk from infrastructure, pollution and over-fishing.

One project that could damage marine environment if not properly planned, according to Yahel, is the natural gas pipeline in the Haifa Bay.

“The northern part of the pipeline will detour the port so as not to interfere with vessels,” she explains.

“It will pass straight through the undersea calcareous limestone ridges, and may cause them great harm. We are now trying to impact the planning to limit the damage,” she says.

Power stations also negatively impact the marine environment, as coal sometimes scatters from the ships bringing it to the station and sinks to the sea bed. Desalination plants also emit various materials into the water.

INPA and Environmental Protection Ministry personnel have found large quantities of iron from the Ashkelon facility that have changed the smell and color of the sea water.

Fishing methods in the Mediterranean basin, including in Israel, severely damage life on the sea bed, mainly when fishing boats use nets with large iron hooks that pick up anything on the sea floor. The fish the fishermen are actually after are said to sometimes constitute only one-tenth of everything they pull up in their nets

Yahel has video footage taken by Dr. Maoz Fine in the area of Sdot Yam near Ceasarea, in which the sea bed looks like it has been plowed. Fine found that in one area of the sea bed that was fished, within a few years the number of coral species declined by 75 percent.

Yahel notes that the INPA’s single marine inspector works in the Rosh Hanikra area and fishermen follow his instructions. However with the possible expansion of reserves, additional personnel will clearly be necessary.

A few months ago, an Italian marine-mammal researcher Giovani Bearzi published an article in the prestigious journal Conservation Biology, in which he noted that scientists had failed to save thousands of dolphins and whales that were caught in the nets of Mediterranean swordfish fishermen.

Bearzi noted that decision-makers have been unwilling make the necessary changes to protect nature, such as limitations on fishing, and public pressure is needed to persuade them.