Israel has closed all its Mediterranean beaches until further notice, days after a devastating offshore oil spill that officials are calling one of the country’s worst ecological disasters.
The oil spill last week is estimated to have deposited dozens of tons of tar across more than 150 kilometres of coastline, wreaking havoc on wildlife including fish, turtles and whales.
The exact cause of the spill has yet to be determined and is currently under investigation by Israeli environmental officials.
Activists began reporting globs of black tar on Israel’s coast after a heavy storm washed the petroleum by-products ashore.
Agriculture ministry researchers on Sunday said a dead young fin whale that washed up on a beach in southern Israel died from ingesting the tar.
Volunteers took to the beaches on Saturday to help clean up the tar, and several were hospitalised after they inhaled toxic fumes.
The Environmental Protection, Health and Interior Ministries issued a joint statement Sunday warning the public not to visit the entire length of the country’s 195 kilometre Mediterranean coastline, cautioning that “exposure to tar can be harmful”.
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel told Hebrew media that her department estimates the clean-up project will cost tens of millions of shekels.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured one of the country’s tar-pocked beaches on Sunday and praised the ministry’s work.
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority has called the spill “one of the most serious ecological disasters” in the country’s history.
In 2014, a crude oil spill in the Arava Desert caused extensive damage to one of the country’s delicate ecosystems.