God created a beautiful world for man. Often, we remember to protect it only when confronted by potentially disastrous situations. It is up to us to be one step ahead.


Published: JUNE 24, 2023

 Boulders are seen falling down the sea cliffs to the beach below in Netanya, Israel. (photo credit: SARAH HERSHENSON)
Boulders are seen falling down the sea cliffs to the beach below in Netanya, Israel.
(photo credit: SARAH HERSHENSON)

The city of Netanya is like a diamond balanced on magnificent white cliffs along the shores of the Mediterranean. However, there is a problem: the cliffs are crumbling.

Though the city has put up warning signs, built fences, planted vegetation, and constructed reinforcement barriers, the erosion from the sea still presents real danger. In 2021, Netanya began a project mimicking Mother Nature by building wave breakers along the coast, and this seems to be working.

Perhaps it took a near tragedy to prove its effectiveness. This past April, after a period of rain and storm, several boulders, each weighing several tons, came loose and fell from the cliffs to the beach below. Tragedy was averted because Netanya had already closed off this section of the beach in preparation for adding six more wave breakers to the six already built. Studies after the storm determined the cliffs protected by the wave breakers suffered no damage. 

It took years for the city to receive the permission and funding to save the cliffs. Standing at the forefront of conservation projects in Netanya is Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar, who approached the Supreme Court and the Israel Land Authority 10 years ago for permission to investigate ways to stop erosion. “I am a feisty mayor,” she said, “and, although I was turned down many times, kept asking until my appeal was granted.”

Fighting to stop erosion: Protecting the environment is a biblical mission

Protecting our environment is a hot topic in today’s news. It appears man has started to pay attention to climate control, reducing poisonous air emissions, recycling, and taking care of his world.

 CONSTRUCTING THE wave breakers in Netanya, Israel. (credit: SARAH HERSHENSON)CONSTRUCTING THE wave breakers in Netanya, Israel. (credit: SARAH HERSHENSON)

Remarkably, these concepts are not new. The Book of Genesis records, when God settled Adam in the Garden of Eden, his role was “to till and tend it.” (Genesis chapter 2 verse 15).

Taking this directive a step further, King Solomon wrote: “Observe God’s doing! For who can straighten what He has twisted?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13) followed by a Midrash (Kohellet Rabbah 7, 13), which explains the verse with a beautiful, short story:

“When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam the first man, He took him and showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and He said to him: ‘See My creations, how beautiful and exemplary they are. Everything I created, I created for you. Make certain that you do not ruin and destroy my world, for if you destroy it, there will be no one to mend it after you.’”

Case in point are the Netanya cliffs, which rise 40 meters (approximately five stories) above sea level. Beaten two-fold by weather and the sea, they are weakened on top by wind and rain, as well as, at the bottom by a receding shoreline and the colossal force of the waves. Estimates from the year 2021 show the cliffs lose between 3,000 to 4,000 tons of foundation material each year.

“The deterioration is an acute problem which has worsened over the years. The goal of our company is not only to reinforce the cliffs, but also to prevent collapse caused by existing damage.”Ilan Lavi

WALKING ALONG the shores, one can see the overhanging depressions in the cliffs carved out by the sea. Even though the shade they provide looks inviting, we are warned to stay away from them and bring an umbrella instead. These are the areas where cliffs have suddenly collapsed. Nature deteriorates quietly and, when disregarded, terrible, needless accidents can occur.

Therefore, Mayor Feirberg was not looking for a bandaid solution, and stood firm in placing the responsibility of reinforcing the cliffs on the national government of Israel. Her petition on behalf of the city of Netanya was granted nine years ago and the company The Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Preservation MCCP was formed by the State. Their responsibility is to reinforce the cliffs and they are managed by the Ministry of Protection of the Environment.

A budget of NIS 210 million was allocated by the national government for the whole project. It began with several years of research and data collection, followed by building six wave breakers. Then, environmental agencies assessed their effectiveness along a 3.5 km length of the Netanya coast and determined their impact on the environment. In recent months, the project passed with flying colors and the government gave permission and funds to build six more wave breakers. 

Building them properly is a formidable and fascinating project. Ilan Lavi, CEO of The Mediterranean Coastal Cliffs Preservation MCCP, the company formed to reinforce the cliffs, says, “The deterioration is an acute problem which has worsened over the years. The goal of our company is not only to reinforce the cliffs, but also to prevent collapse caused by existing damage. In addition, we will monitor the cliff’s retreat in the future and prepare solutions to minimize it.

The cliffs lose between five to 10 centimeters each year. Our research shows we can reduce that number significantly.”

Lavi is a retired Israel Navy captain with many years of domestic and international experience. Seeking the optimum plan of action, Lavi explains, “We are utilizing the best advanced technology from both international as well as domestic sources to decide on the height, width, and space between the breakers.”

The wave breakers are built off the shore in about four meters of water. The distance between them and from the shore varies, according to results of tests and measurements which determine the optimum water circulation flow, and the impact upon the environment.

Before each wave breaker is built, a temporary, narrow road is constructed to transport the building materials from shore to the site in the sea. Each road is reinforced with tremendous stones on both sides. However, after the wave breaker is completed, these roads are dismantled, leaving the breakers alone to meet the force of the sea. 

BUILDING THE wave breakers requires an enormous amount of material. Every day, between 10 to 15 large trucks arrive at the construction site. They have traveled to and from the Golan, transporting large black, Basalt boulders (each weighing between three to six tons) to Netanya’s coast. In addition, other trucks bring loads of various sized white and gray cut Dolomite stones from quarries in Rosh Ha’ayin, Judea and Samaria which are used to complete the wave breakers.

Throughout the 14-hour working day, (between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.), the trucks deposit their massive piles of stones before bulldozers. Then, trained marine construction operators use a GPS system to correctly place each boulder under water and place the stone in the exact position.

The wave breakers are 120 meters wide and six meters in height, of which four meters are below the water level and two meters are above. The biggest and heaviest boulders are placed on the bottom of the sea. The final level is made up of smaller white rocks cut to form a close and intricate pattern, resembling a Chinese puzzle, which is able to withstand the energy of the sea.

Before the big construction machinery leaves the breaker, a UAV (unmanned air vehicle) with camera attached checks the position of each stone, and identifies weak spots which need to be filled in. “If you miss,” points out CEO Lavi, “there is no going back, because the road leading to each breaker is gone.”

Lavi explains how the company has sought advice from international experts, and decided upon implementing a second method to reinforce the cliffs. “We are doing this by widening the beach,” he explains. “To do this, you need sand – a great deal of sand. We ordered 2,500 tons of it, which comes from the bottom of Ashdod port.”

The sand was transported from Ashdod to Netanya on several trips by the Spanish ship, Costa la Luz, built specifically for these kinds of projects. When it reached Netanya, it pumped and transferred the sand to the beach through a large pipe which floated upon the water. 

“Our goal is to widen the beach between 140 to 160 meters with this beautiful clean sand,” says Lavi. “This will not only beautify our beaches but also keep the waves away from the cliffs. ”

He estimates all 12 wave breakers will be finished by the middle of 2025.

During this time frame, a team of ocean research experts will constantly study the impact of the wave breakers on Israel’s southern beaches and coastal environment. In addition, the project’s success has inspired other coastal cities, like Herzliya, to begin cliff reinforcement projects. Lavi is looking forward to their participation.

“Our objective is to make the sea and shore open and safe for the public, and thereby realize the potential for the coastal strip,” he states.

God created a beautiful world for man. Often, we remember to protect it only when confronted by potentially disastrous situations. It is up to us to be one step ahead.