Birth of a National Park

Author name: Razia Zehavi, Planner, Israel Nature and Parks Authority

How a National Park is Born
Caesarea National Marine Park

West of Caesarea National Park, just off the shore, lies an amazing hidden world of archeological artifacts and natural deep-sea treasures. We wish to preserve, research, and help grow this area by declaring it a national marine park.

Establishing a national park, according to the 1998 Law of National Parks, Nature Reserves, National Sites and Memorial Sites, gives the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) the right to manage the area as a national park, to operate it from a tourist and security standpoint, and to protect it with the help of marine rangers. In 1968 the Caesarea National Park was similarly declared on land, and today it is the INPA’s most visited site – with over one million visitors per year.

The first step on the long road to establishing the marine area as a national park is creating a legislative plan and getting approval from the planning committees, similar to a city expansion plan or plans to construct a new technology park. Our partners in this challenging marine journey are the Israel Antiquities Authority – who are in charge of archeological artifacts, and the Edmond de Rothschild Caesarea Development Corporation – who manage the beach restaurants and developments in the Caesarea Harbor.

Caesarea was the predominant beach city in the Eastern Mediterranean for 600 years, since its establishment by Herod the Great in 10 BCE. Herod began construction on Caesarea’s port facilities, Sebastos Harbor, before building the city itself, and its sheltered docking area extended over roughly 50 acres. The harbor was built in order to create docking space; provide shelter and docking services to ships sailing between Egypt, the Levant, and Europe; and to protect the wheat supply shipped from Egypt to the Roman Empire. The harbor was approximately 500 meters long and was built in three sections. Construction of the harbor and its different facilities was a huge engineering project, the first of its kind. Archeological findings teach us that the Western basin of Caesarea Harbor stopped functioning just 100 years after it was built, it was completely destroyed before the end of the third century, and most of its remnants are now under water.

In 2006 a unique underwater archeological park in Caesarea was launched including four underwater trails with trail signs for divers providing information and directions. Today only some of the trail sign poles that were placed at the opening of the site remain, and none of the information signs survived.

Photo: Antiquities Authority – Marine Department

In the last decade the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has come to realize that the sea is a natural space rich with natural resources, beautiful scenery, and heritage, just like Mount Carmel or Mount Meron National Parks, but a more hidden gem. With the start of construction in the sea, like the natural gas pipe or “Leviathan” drilling that has recently begun functioning, the INPA has placed the Mediterranean Sea center-stage and at top priority as a natural resource that we need to deepen our understanding of, double meaning intended, and whose hidden treasures we need to protect. We have studied and researched the marine environment through the lens of marine ecology and have built a marine area where sea rangers work with great dedication and professional underwater equipment.

The Building and Construction Committee of the Ministry of Finance, who are in charge of approving plans, have also understood the significance of the “Great Blue” that spreads west of the country’s beaches, and have drafted the “Israel Marine Plan” approved in 2018. This policy paper explains that, to date, in the most important sites, and most notably in ancient seaside cities, only the areas on land have been planned and established as national parks, whereas most of the marine areas that contain archeological relics remain unprotected.

As a result, the INPA initiated the ‘Caesarea Marine National Park’ project, after comprehensive research about the needs of the project in terms of preservation, visitor reception, scientific research, security, and management of the marine park. The project complements the ‘terrestrial plan’ covering Caesarea’s archeological sites on land, and includes a large stretch of underwater archeological artifacts, all within 500 meters of the shore.

The project will address the three main functions of a national park according to the marine policy paper:

Preserving and rehabilitating archeological and heritage sites along with access to the public, organizing recreational and sports activities, and protecting natural and ecological resources.

The project documentation includes detailed guidelines (plans) and blueprints, as well as professional addendums. The project guidelines lay out the ‘rules of the road’ of what is permitted and what is prohibited within the borders, the blueprint defines the borders, and the addendums provide both the knowledge base and the justification for approving the project and the establishment of the area as a national park.

Three addendums were prepared for this project:

1. Preservation addendum – surveys the archeological findings and their significance, provides detailed plans to protect them and make them accessible to the public, and allows for continuation of research by the Antiquities Authority.
2. Users and usage addendum – details the variety of groups that currently use the sea and provides recommendations for planning these activities in the future, mostly in the harbor area and with a focus on recreational diving, “no-motor” sailing, fishing restrictions, and public sporting events such as diving, swimming, kayaking, SUP-ing, wind surfing, and more.
3. Ecological survey – presents the unique natural resources of the sea with its impressive diversity of invertebrates, rays, and colorful sea slugs, but also points to many hazards such as old fishing nets and piles of electric wires.

photo: Orit Barneah

The project’s documentation has recently been completed and will soon be sent for review and discussion to the various planning committees, including Haifa’s district committee, the Life and Environment organization, and the Council of National Parks and Nature Reserves who recommend the establishment of this area as a national park.

Planning a marine national park is a professional challenge for me that is both intriguing and fascinating. Unlike on the beach, I can’t directly appreciate the scenery, the seascape, the rare species, or the antiquities scattered across the site – because I don’t dive. I can only trust in the experts who understand the secrets of the sea better than I do, and rely on their professional ability as seen through photos, videos, surveys, and research.

The design of a Caesarea Marine National Park is rare opportunity to make all this underwater beauty accessible to the general public, and I am proud to be part of a multidisciplinary team of professionals who dedicate their time to advancing the program and to literally deepening our familiarity with the sea.

I hope that by 2025 I will be able to update you about the establishment of the first marine national park in Israel – Caesarea Sea, and invite you to a “ribbon cutting” ceremony through a SUP competition in Caesarea Harbor.

Translated by Daphna Shapiro Goldberg