Forecasts for the coming decade

אנשי מפתח
Ruth yahel

Dr. Ruth Yahel
Marine ecologist, Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Nature conservation in the Mediterranean Sea: Where did we come from, where we are today, and most importantly – where do we go from here?

For many years, the Israeli Mediterranean Sea has been “neglected ” both by the public and by governmental institutions. The discovery and recognition of many natural values in the sea, of the benefits the sea gives us (“marine ecosystem services”), and of the economic resources that are in the sea, have changed the attitude towards the sea over the last decade. Recently the Israeli Mediterranean Sea “merited” its own comprehensive planning policy and legislation.

The new planning policy acknowledges the need to establish and maintain large marine nature reserves, to manage fisheries in a sustainable way, to allow for multiple uses of the sea, and to control the wide range of activities that take place in the sea for the benefit of the public and the environment. We support marine reserves through research that uses innovative technology to expand our knowledge and understanding of what is happening below the surface of the “Great Blue”: we survey unique habitats at the bottom of the sea that were previously unknown, we study species in the open sea and those that are close to shore, and we examine the impact of marine reserves on the fauna and flora both inside their boundaries and in the surrounding areas. This information serves as the basis for planning and promoting new nature reserves, which will help us in the future protect sections of each marine habitat, and the biodiversity found within them. The significant expansion of the supervision, enforcement, and monitoring power of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority at sea allows us to oversee and manage the marine reserves and to control fishing outside of the reserves, thereby allowing the entire marine ecosystem to recuperate.

Eyal Miller

Eyal Miller
Manager of the north marine rangers team

The challenge facing the Israel Nature and Parks Authority marine rangers is to help establish and support the marine reserves in accordance with the new national maritime legislation. This work includes:

Improve monitoring and control of the number of fishers in the fishing ports – Acre, Kishon, Jaffa, Ashkelon.
Reduce the amount of trawl fishing.
Work at distances from along the beach up to the limits of territorial waters.
Update fishing command about key species and the relevant fishing methods.
Include surf fishing under fishing control
Reduce the number of invasive species with the highest impact on fishing – such as lionfish and other species.
Technical, hands-on, inspection of construction plans at sea (marinas, barges, breakwaters, pipelines, communication infrastructure, and more ..)
Increase the staffing and marine tools needed to accomplish these tasks.

On a personal note, I feel that we are at the cusp of a tremendous change in the Israeli Mediterranean Sea and I’m happy to play a significant role in this change. Even if the work often involves some serious friction, it is clear to me that we are doing something very right.

At the start of a new year, I’d like to wish all the rangers a year that they do not drink seawater, and to all the fishers, that their fishing gear should stink of fish, but from the right sizes and species. We should all enjoy large reserves and a plentiful sea

Arik Rosenblum, CEO of EcoOcean

Our vision is that, from both a public and a political view, the sea will be seen as an integral part of the State of Israel.

This has implications in terms of protecting the environment, protecting the natural resources and open territories, and careful and sustainable development.

Marine education will represent a significant and ongoing element of the education system in the country. The younger generation that we educate today will lead the state in 10 years and be leaders in the fields of environment preservation and innovation in this area and in general.

We will promote marine research in Israel and the region through the most innovative research tools and high accessibility and availability to researchers, students, and educators.

Within 10 years, approximately 20% of the national territorial waters will be protected nature reserves, well managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, with active involvement of public representatives, teeming with nature and a healthy marine ecosystem.

The energy sector in the State of Israel will be based on renewable energy. In addition, the state will be prepared and ready to react to a pollution crisis from any source, with a detailed and suitably budgeted emergency program including a nationwide network of volunteers with appropriate training.

The local authorities will be managed in a sustainable way, using a wide range of tools to achieve ‘blue flag’ beaches and marinas and ‘green key’ hotels, green building standards, extensive use of renewable energy, and more.

The amount of waste along the coast of Israel and at sea will have been greatly reduced . Recycling rates will be similar to those accepted in other Western, ecologically advanced, countries. The public will have changed their habits, and there will be only negligible littering in public areas and on beaches.

Prof. Jonathan Belmaker

School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University

What can we expect in the next decade?

Remote sensors, automated image recognition, and meta-genome methods will allow us to access reliable and consistent data on changes in species presence and composition.

A network of effective marine nature reserves in Israel will greatly improve the functioning of marine ecosystems and enable sustainable utilization. Fishing will remain a widespread hobby, but most of the protein from the sea will come from aquaculture.

The challenge of dealing with a growing number of invasive species and global warming will continue to occupy scientists and planning organizations. Israel will be at the forefront of this struggle and our successes here will have a great impact on other countries dealing with these challenges.

I am certain that in the next few years, Israelis will come to understand the importance of the sea to their daily lives, and will learn to enjoy natural resources while protecting the ecosystem.

Alon Rothschild

Biodiversity Policy Manager Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)

The challenges of the next decade will be more difficult and complex, and without changing gears – we won’t be able to address them.

The past decade was characterized by breakthroughs in the preservation of the marine environment in Israel: the historic update of the fishing regulations and the ban of trawler fishing in 40% of the sea, the transfer of fishery enforcement responsibilities to the newly establishment marine branch of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the promotion and approval of significant marine nature reserves.

However, the coming decade will be far more challenging for our marine nature, and if we do not change gears and take bold systemic steps  – the outcome in the field will not be the recovery of the ecosystem, but rather the continued deterioration of its resilience to climate change and biological invasions.

The focus of the coming decade should be on promoting the approval and establishment of marine nature reserves; expanding the range of the reserves to at least 20% of territorial waters, and establishing a major reserve in the economic waters at Palmachim. We are already lagging behind the world goal to protect at least 30% of the ocean.

Trawler fishing, which is irreversibly destroying our sea, must be banned, with financial compensation. It’s time to say goodbye to this primitive fishing method. We must declare the apex-predators of our sea – the groupers and the tuna, protected natural assets, to restore balance to the marine ecosystem. The challenge is to convince the political echelon to act for the good of the sea, and not for the sake of a narrow interest group that hunts and eats the apex-predators that maintain balance in the sea for all of us.

Finally, the gas and oil industry’s activities at sea must be regulated once and for all. First of all, their activities should be subject to the supervision of planning institutions with consideration of environmental factors, unlike today where the Ministry of Energy is the de-facto “Minister of the Sea” in the economic waters. In addition, we should limit gas production at sea to a minimum, in order to reduce carbon emissions that are harmful to our climate.

It is important to understand that difficult times call for difficult measures. Partial solutions and compromises may tick the boxes for some policymakers, but results in the field can only be seen if we implement systemic, large-scale changes, without “cutting corners.”


Oded Rahav
Marine Sports Specialist

A change in approach

As someone who has been swimming in our Mediterranean for about two decades, I can mostly report on what has been and less on what will be. I do not have the gift of prophecy. I cannot, for example, quantify the number of fish there were when I started swimming compared to the situation now. I do know that things have changed; some fish have disappeared from view and other, new fish, have appeared. I can say that newer, larger, jellyfish have appeared, and that the blue ones of time past are gone. Above all, I can say with certainty that our sea has become filthy and that most of the debris comes from the shore where bathers leave litter. Mostly it saddens me, but it also takes away my privilege to sit idly by and not act. When five of my friends and I swam from Cyprus to Israel, we vowed to go the extra mile (in our swim suits) and tell the story of the plastic that is suffocating us and to raise public awareness. Until it is clean here.

The beaches of Israel and its seas are the most beautiful in the world. You can swim here almost every day of the year. This should not be taken for granted. The conditions that exist here could easily make Israel the touchstone for marine sports in all its varieties. It is a fact that the number of swimmers swimming in the sea today has increased by hundreds of percent over the last decade. The number of games and competitions has also increased, as well as sailing, SUP, kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, and more. It warms the heart mainly because it is the best way to bring people closer to this wonderful and enigmatic thing called the sea.

I would be thrilled if over the coming decade we would change our approach to the sea. That we would no longer take it for granted, that we would respect this amazing expanse of nature, and that we would approach it with a type of religious reverence. As athletes, I hope we will appreciate the privilege given to us to be guests of the sea, and as guests, I hope we will be sure to say thank you, and to leave the place cleaner than we found it when we arrived. It is a privilege that is also a duty.

Translated by Daphna Shapiro Goldberg