Oil Spill in Mediterranean Injures Wildlife and Closes Israel’s Beaches

A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea that affected wildlife and closed beaches in Israel. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel’s biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, with authorities closing the country’s beaches and beginning a massive cleanup effort.

Chunks of sticky, black tar began washing up late last week. On Sunday, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry warned people to avoid going to beaches from the country’s northern border with Lebanon all the way to the south near the Gaza Strip. Tar exposure can make people sick and irritate the skin.

More than 4,000 volunteers from the Israeli nonprofit group EcoOcean have helped remove tar from beaches so far, according to the ministry.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned that the “consequences will be seen for years to come.”

Israeli environmental minister Gila Gamliel said Saturday that there are no more oil slicks visible off Israel’s coast, “which is an encouraging condition.” However the ministry warned that large waves are forecast this week. The waves could carry chunks of sticky tar from beach to beach, complicating cleanup efforts.

Israeli and European authorities are investigating what happened. Israeli officials believe a ship spilled tens or even hundreds of tons of oil in the Mediterranean, beyond the country’s territorial waters.

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SOURCE: NPR, Rebecca Hersher

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