Israel’s Mediterranean and Red Sea coastlines are among the country’s most valuable natural assets. Their protection from pollution and from the often conflicting demands of urbanization, industrialization, agriculture, recreation and tourism, is of utmost importance.

The Mediterranean Coastline

Israel’s Mediterranean coastline stretches some 195 kilometers from north to south. This generally sandy coastline can be divided into four morphological sections according to physical characteristics and sedimentological properties:

1) Rosh Hanikra to Acre a sedimentologically isolated region with abraded rocky platforms and narrow beaches;

2) Haifa Bay a region of wide sandy beaches bounded by the Acre promontory on the north and the Carmel mountain range on the south;

3) The Carmel coastal plane a region consisting of three low parallel ridges of calcareous sandstone, parts onshore and parts offshore, with relatively narrow sandy beaches;

4) South of Caesarea a region of sandy beaches, occasionally interrupted by sections of calcareous sandstone cliffs up to 40 meters high.

The major ecological feature of the Mediterranean coast of Israel is that it constitutes the northernmost sector of the Nile littoral cell, which extends from the coastal zone of the Nile Delta to the end of Haifa Bay at Acre. This cell is composed of quartz Nilotic sand which is transported along the coasts of Egypt, Sinai and Israel until Haifa Bay. The net yearly sand transport within the surf zone decreases from about one million cubic meters at the Nile Delta to about 250 thousand cubic meters at Ashkelon and to zero somewhere between Hadera and Haifa. Beyond the surf zone, the sediment transport is estimated to be about an order of magnitude larger at the Nile Delta, decreasing to about 500 thousand cubic meters at Ashkelon and about 100 thousand cubic meters off Haifa.

About 70% of Israel’s population of 5.3 million lives within 15 kilometers of the Mediterranean coastline, and the country’s major economic and commercial activity is concentrated here. During the warm months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis and tourists flock to 80 authorized bathing beaches

(about 25 kilometers) and to other coastal stretches which are open to the public (about 125 kilometers).

Other activities which affect the coastal environment are the industry, refining and commerce that take place in the ports of Haifa, Ashdod and Ashkelon and power generating facilities along the coast which use Mediterranean waters for cooling. These facilities account for another 15 kilometers of coastline. The remainder of the coast is closed to the public.

The coastal strip also contains Israel’s most fertile agricultural land. Severe conflicts have arisen between the expansion of urban settlements along the coastline and the preservation and protection of this agricultural land.

The Gulf of Eilat

The 14-kilometer long Red Sea coast (Gulf of Eilat) can be divided into three sections: a gently sloping sandy shore along the northern shore; narrow, coarse sand and pebble beaches along the central shore; and a narrow shore with coral reefs at the southernmost edge.

The Gulf of Eilat, at the northern end of the Red Sea, offers a clear example of the often conflicting demands of tourist, industrial and environmental interests along a limited coastline. Eilat is both an international tourist center and an industrialized port town with a major oil terminal. Its wide sandy beaches slope gently underwater to 100-150 meters offshore, from where the sea floor abruptly drops to 600-1,500 meters. The climate is typically desert: very low precipitation and over 340 clear, sunny days a year.

The Gulf of Eilat is the world’s northernmost tropical sea ecosystem. Its oxygen-rich water has a constant temperature of 21o-24oC, and it supports a dense population of more than 100 species of coral, 800 species of fish, and hundreds of species of crustaceans and molluscs. Established as a nature reserve in 1965, the coral reef is a major tourist attraction with its underwater observation chamber, dolphin park, glass-bottomed boats, tourist submarine and swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving activities.

Most of the northern section of the western shore is occupied by port facilities. Deep water adjacent to the shoreline in the protected waters of the Gulf enables anchorage without the need for offshore breakwaters. The port facilities handle bulk cargo, oil and vehicles.