Jerusalem (The Associated Press) – Israel closed all its Mediterranean beaches until further notice on Sunday, days after an oil spill into the sea caused an estimated tens of tons of tar to be deposited across more than 100 miles of coastline in what officials describe as one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. .
Activists began reporting lumps of black tar on the Israeli coast last week after a severe storm swept petroleum by-products ashore, destroying wildlife. Researchers at the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture determined Sunday that a young, dead whale washed away by waves on a beach in southern Israel died from ingesting the viscous black liquid, Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority described the leak as “one of the most serious environmental disasters” in the country’s history. In 2014, a crude oil spill in the Wadi Araba desert caused severe damage to one of the country’s sensitive ecosystems.
The exact cause of the spill has not yet been determined and is currently under investigation by Israeli environmental officials.
Volunteers took to the beaches on Saturday to help clean the tar, and many were rushed to hospital after inhaling toxic fumes.
The Ministries of Environmental Protection, Health, and the Interior issued a joint statement on Sunday warning the public against visiting the entire length of the 195-kilometer (120-mile) Mediterranean coast, warning that “exposure to tar can harm public health.”
Environment Protection Minister Gila Gamliel told Hebrew media that her ministry estimates that the clean-up project will cost tens of millions of shekels.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a tour of the country’s tar-ridden beaches on Sunday and praised the ministry’s work.
The ministry did not immediately respond to interview requests.