A report by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense says the plan to enlarge the Haifa Port would use 50% more sand than necessary.
By Zafrir Rinat | Feb 10, 2014 | 04:20 PM

A plan to expand the Port of Haifa would severely damage the marine ecosystem and shrink nearby beaches, according to a report by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

The report is based on the professional opinions of marine ecologist Boaz Mayzel and marine geologist Yaakov Nir. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental preservation, shared the report with the Israel Ports and Railways Authority, which is behind the expansion plan.

The Ports Authority’s master plan involves digging up 18 million cubic meters of sand from Haifa Bay for use in enlarging various structures at the Haifa Port, including a new terminal for shipping containers. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense says the plan would cause severe environmental damage and allow 50 percent more sand than necessary to be removed. The organization advocates looking into alternatives, including turning extra material in quarries and construction debris into sand for construction.

In the report, Mayzel warns that digging up such a large amount of sand from Hafia Bay would cause severe harm to the habitat of flora and fauna near the undersea calcareous limestone ridges. The area is one of the most important in the ecosystem near Israel’s coastline, he says, and even if a recovery process took place after the digging was finished, unique species of flora and fauna could be lost.

For his part, Nir warns that the plan would destroy the balance of the sand that has developed over many years. He further cautions that sand from other areas would migrate to the dugout area instead of reaching the Krayot coastline north of the port — which would result in a significant reduction in the amount of sand on those beaches.

So far, only very modest plans for digging up sand from Israel’s seabed have been approved. The main purpose of such plans was to move sand that had accumulated near wavebreaks to beaches where wavebreaks had reduced sand accumulation. The Ports Authority’s plan for the Port of Haifa allows for removing sand on a much larger scale, which the Israel Union for Environmental Defense compares in its report to opening a new quarry.

A spokesperson for the Israel Ports and Railways Authority said, “We will present our response to the criticisms after we receive them from the planning director at the Interior Ministry. We note, in essence, that the authority looked into a series of alternatives on dry land in Israel and neighboring countries during the preliminary planning stages. These were ruled out for several reasons, including the unsuitability of the material for the engineering requirements and the high cost of creating quarry sand. The transportation of millions of tons of sand over hundreds of kilometers would mean thousands of trucks per month on the highways, which would be an environmental and safety hazard. An environment impact survey, which was one of the most comprehensive and professional ever conducted in Israel, was performed and a detailed environmental-protection plan was put in place to prevent damage to the marine environment and the Haifa Bay shoreline.”