Oil Spill Off Israeli Coast Covers Beaches and Wildlife in Tar

Authorities are searching for the ship responsible for the unreported spill

Dead baby sea turtle
A woman at the Gador nature reserve in Israel holds a dead baby sea turtle covered in tar from the oil spill on Feb. 20, 2021. AP Photo / Ariel Schalit

Black tar started washing up on beaches along Israel’s Mediterranean coast last week after an offshore oil spill, reports Ilan Ben Zion for the Associated Press. The ship responsible for the spill is currently unknown, but investigations to uncover its identity are underway. Authorities say they have produced a list of ten suspicious ships using satellite data.

The spill, said to be dozens of tons of tar, has killed or harmed wildlife, including turtles, fish and birds, reports the Times of Israel. The corpse of a 55-foot fin whale also washed ashore and the Israeli Parks Authority tells the Times of Israel that the oil spill may have contributed to its death.

“Without care, none of the turtles would have made it,” Yaniv Levy, the manager of the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, tells Shira Rubin of the Washington Post. “They all came with tar all over their heads and a large part of their bodies. They have tar in their eyes, mouths, nostrils and digestive systems. We were able to remove 99 percent of it.”

Oil Spill Off Israeli Coast Covers Beaches and Wildlife in Tar
An Israeli soldier holds a ball of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup at Sharon Beach Nature Preserve on February 22, 2021. AP Photo / Ariel Schalit

In a statement quoted by the Times of Israel, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel called the spill a “hazard of a magnitude we have not seen in years.” And added that Israel is “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.”

In a Facebook post the Israel Nature and Parks Authority says the spill’s "consequences will be seen for years to come."

Per the Times of Israel, some of the thousands of volunteers who were on hand to help clean up the spill had to be hospitalized after inhaling the tar’s toxic fumes on Saturday.

Authorities have since closed the country’s beaches to make way for a massive cleanup effort involving the military, and urged the public to keep their distance, according to the AP.

Globs of black tar have also reached the shores of Lebanon, reports Molly Taft for Gizmodo.

“In terms of the aquatic ecology, I believe that the images we are seeing are pretty self-evident. It’s horrible for marine life,” Edo Bar-Zeev, a biologist from Ben-Gurion University, tells Rossella Tercatin of 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.”