Mystery Israel Oil Spill Is Its Worst Environmental Disaster in Years

Mystery Israel Oil Spill Is Its Worst Environmental Disaster in Years
An Israeli soldier wearing a full protective suit holds a piece of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup operation. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)
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Israel is scrambling to clean up black tar that has washed ashore on its beaches following an oil spill that officials are calling one of the worst environmental disasters in years.

The spill has taken a serious toll on wildlife, experts say, and the damage could be long-lasting. But the government actually isn’t quite sure of the source of the spill. Solving the mystery could be key to ensuring more pollution doesn’t wash up on Israel and its neighbours’ shores. In the meantime, images show the dramatic cleanup underway.

Volunteers Dispatched To Clean Up

Israeli soldiers wearing protective suits clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP) Israeli soldiers wearing protective suits clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)

Tar began washing up on Israel’s shores over the weekend, and on Sunday the government told the public to avoid going to beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of volunteers, including some from the country’s military, the Israel Defence Forces, were dispatched over the weekend to clean up tar along the beaches. The fumes from the spill were so noxious that some volunteers were hospitalised.

A Serious Disaster

A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP) A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)

“This is [a] hazard of a magnitude we have not seen in years,” Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said. “We are doing everything in order to find those responsible for the destruction, and are preparing for the difficult and long task of rehabilitating the beaches and preventing further injury to animals.”

Animals From Fish to Whales Have Been Impacted

A marine veterinarian takes samples from a dead fin whale washed up on a beach in Israel. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP) A marine veterinarian takes samples from a dead fin whale washed up on a beach in Israel. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)

Photos shared on Twitter show that tar has reached the shores of Lebanon. While officials say they are not worried about the tar impacting drinking water, the damage to wildlife may be severe. Volunteers say that turtles, fish, and birds have all been impacted by the spill. The spill may also be affecting larger wildlife: The body of a 55-foot (16.8-metre) fin whale washed ashore on Thursday, and experts say its death may be tied to the spill.

‘Horrible for Marine Life’

Tar pieces, trash, from an oil spill floats in the Mediterranean sea as it reached Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP) Tar pieces, trash, from an oil spill floats in the Mediterranean sea as it reached Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel. (Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP)

“In terms of the aquatic ecology, I believe that the images we are seeing are pretty self-evident. It’s horrible for marine life,” Ben-Gurion University environmental microbiologist Edo Bar-Zeev told The Jerusalem Post. “We will continue to find this substance on the Israeli beaches for quite a while, and the tar will keep on releasing the carbon it contains back into the ocean.”

Looking for the Culprit

Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP

We’re not actually not sure what is responsible for the mess. Rough weather hit ships off the coast last week, and officials say it’s likely that oil or gas spilled from one or more of ten vessels. The government says it is working to identify the source of the spill to hold those accountable.