Israeli environmentalists, skippers battle over new marina plan

A controversial plan promoted by local municipalities in Israel foresees the construction of six new marinas and the expansion of existing ones.

al-monitor Israeli TV personalities Eliraz Sade (R) and Nathan Bashevkin (L) take part in the "Live billboard" event at the marina in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 28, 2010. Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

nature, environment, climate change, beach, mediterranean sea, miri regev, boats, marine wildlife

Oct 8, 2020

Ten days ago, on Sept. 29, the subcommittee for principle planning issues convened for an especially sensitive meeting. Architect Edna Lerman presented her grand plan for six new marinas to be built by 2030 in Nahariya, Haifa, Hadera, Netanya, Tel Aviv and Bat Yam. The plan also proposes to increase the berth capacity of Israel's existing marinas along the shore of the Mediterranean.

The presentation of the project meant a lot to the cities and towns involved. It has been two years now that they have been pushing forward this initiative. With the coronavirus-induced economic crisis, they consider the plan crucial. The idea is to increase the number of yacht parking spots from some 3,000 to 10,000, or even 13,000 places. Apparently, the six cities that are hoping for new marinas have already applied for planning permissions. Other local municipalities — Rishon Lezion, Kiryat Yam and the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council — are currently considering applying for a similar permission.

The six cities already have the support of Transportation Minister Miri Regev. But for the plan to be accepted, they would also need the approval of the Planning Committee and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Backing the project, Regev wrote to Deri, "Since 2016, berths in Israel have been completely full. Israeli citizens who own boats are forced to search for available moorings around the Mediterranean and according to professional sources we are talking about 1,500 boat owners."

Head of planning at the Adam Teva V’Din association (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) Yael Dori said that all construction in the sea — yacht berths, wave breakers, and so on — have serious environmental implications. In the case of Israel, she claimed, marine constructions are hurting the natural process of sand being pushed from the Egyptian shore toward Israel in the summer, and then back to Egypt in winter with the storms.

"The construction of the Herzliya marina, for instance, damaged irreversibly the beaches north to it. The beaches shrunk considerably, because the sand can no longer circulate back and forth. The Apolonia archaeological site just north of the marina is suffering. Sand is disappearing from underneath the cliff the site is built on, and the cliff is being eaten away by the waves. Parts of the site have already begun to crumble and fall off," Dori said.

If new marinas are constructed, the beaches will continue to shrink, she warned. "The shrinking of the beaches is a critical issue for the Israeli public, as demand for more beach space grows every year. Beaches are the most sought-after open spaces in the country. With climate change, the warm days grow longer, the summer gets longer. And so, we, the public, need beaches. We cannot hand over these lands to a handful of yacht owners," she added.

Dori also warned about another dangerous aspect: damage to the ecosystem. "Turtles need quiet and dark beaches. They lay eggs each year at the same spot. That is why damaging these open spaces could be tragic, nature wise."

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel is also against the new marinas. "I'm strenuously opposed to adding new berths that would serve a very limited public of mainly the wealthy with means at the expense of the public at large and the environment. We won't agree to harming the basic principles of distributive justice and the environment. Allocating areas of the coastline to a small population at the expense of the general public is a social injustice," the minister stated.

The Transportation Ministry rebuffs Dori and Gamliel’s claims. The ministry’s spokesperson Avner Ovadia told Al-Monitor that the new marina plan merely upgrades plans drafted some 40 years ago. "We are not talking about mooring facilities for the rich, but berths that will serve the whole public, for boat-parking, for entertainment, for sports and for tourism. In educational terms, these berths would advance marine sports for the youths, like marine scouts and other groups. And then there is the economic side. Marinas serve as an economic engine for all sorts of businesses that offer employment in turn — be it in the shipping industry, in boat maintenance, in shopping malls or in entertainment. The marinas that would be constructed in peripheral areas such as Nahariya in the north or Ashdod in the south would surely contribute greatly to internal tourism and tourism from abroad."

Last but not least among the players in this marina saga are the skippers. Sailing is one of the most prominent and successful sports in Israel. It was in sailing, with windsurfer Gal Friedman, that Israel earned its first Olympic gold medal (2004). Israel Sailing Association Chairman Gili Amir told Al-Monitor that the new marina plan is essential for developing marine sports. "An open beach — without a well-constructed marina — enables youths with boats or surfboards to go out to the sea and come back only a limited number of days in the year. In the marina, the Sailing Association gets reserved anchorage spots. Without that, it can hardly function."

Yoav, father of a 15-year old daughter engaged with the marine scouts, told Al-Monitor that his daughter is in love with the sea. "I hear other parents complaining about their children stuck in front of screens all day. My daughter goes out to the beach whenever she can. At 15, she is already interested in marine biology, and this is what she plans on studying at university. She loves nature and she loves discovering marine life. I think that the marina plan will enable so many more children to share these passions."

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