No sharks in Israel, but beach can kill

By Nathan Jeffay, April 14, 2011
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water: Israel is investing millions into protecting the country’s coastline from erosion

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water: Israel is investing millions into protecting the country’s coastline from erosion

The Israeli government has announced a 500 million shekel (£88 million) project to tackle a hidden danger that lurks along the country's coastline.

When tourists and locals look out from Israeli beaches, most are unaware that the cliffs that run along 28 miles of Israel's 116-mile coastline are at growing risk of collapse.

The cliffs formed over millennia from sedimentary products carried by the wind. But they are receding with alarming speed - at around 8in a year. One major and several minor collapses occur in a typical year.

Nobody is suggesting avoiding beaches in areas where there are cliffs - such as the popular holiday spot of Netanya - but people are advised not to go directly underneath them. Two years ago a man who pitched his tent under a cliff near Netanya was killed by falling rock.

The government plan involves channelling sand to the areas underneath the cliffs to give them more support, and constructing breakwaters to make the impact of waves on the cliffs gentler.

The plan is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is decisive action after years of inaction. But on the other hand, these measures are only planned for eight miles, which is less than a third of the length of the cliffs.

Granted, these are the most populated areas or those with archaeological remains. However, people visit Israel's entire coastline, meaning that the government is playing a numbers game by not eliminating the danger.

Another problem with the plan is that if erosion is, as one theory goes, a natural phenomenon, this is a valiant attempt to deal with its effects, but if a rival theory is correct and human building is a major culprit in bringing it about, the plan should have also addressed construction policy.

The scholars who focus on man's role are most critical of hotels which, in the clamour for perfect sea views, stand just yards from the edge of cliffs, making them less stable. They contend that structures protruding into the ocean - including marinas - act as a blockage for the natural flow of sediments from inland, which protect the beaches and cliffs from the power of the waves.

But while Israel is less considerably likely than it was in the past to grant licences for hotels near the edges of cliffs, the country's love of marinas continues to grow unabated. As recently as September, officials in Hadera, where cliffs run along the shore, announced their intention to build a marina.

    Last updated: 12:12pm, April 14 2011