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After inundating Israel with tar, oil spill hits Lebanese turtle beach

Volunteers help clean up swath of coastline that is a nesting site for turtles, as officials say pollution could continue washing up for months

Volunteers from youth associations clean a contaminated beach in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre on February 27, 2021, following last week's offshore oil spill that drenched the northern Israeli coastline and reached parts of the neighboring Lebanese beaches. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)
Volunteers from youth associations clean a contaminated beach in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre on February 27, 2021, following last week's offshore oil spill that drenched the northern Israeli coastline and reached parts of the neighboring Lebanese beaches. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

TYRE, Lebanon — Lebanese on Saturday raked balls of tar away from a turtle beach in the south of the country, as a massive slick washed ashore after hitting neighboring Israel.

A storm more than a week ago threw tons of the sticky, black substance onto the beaches of the Jewish state, apparently after leaking from a ship.

Within days the spill had spread to southern Lebanon, where clumps of tar contaminated beaches stretching from the border town of Naqura to the southern city of Tyre.

The swath of coastline, which includes some of the country’s best-preserved beaches, is a nesting site for turtles which usually appear later in the year.

Hussein Hamza, a Lebanese environmental activist, shows off his hands covered with tar-soaked sands at the Tyre Nature Reserve, considered a destination for sea turtles to lay eggs, in Lebanon’s southern coastal city of Tyre on February 22, 2021 (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

On Saturday morning, mask-clad volunteers and members of the civil defense sifted blobs of tar out of sand on the beach of the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve.

“The Tyre reserve has been hit by about two tons of tar, 90 percent of which is now hidden in the sand,” said Mouin Hamze, the head of the National Council for Scientific Research.

The clean-up of the reserve could last up to two more weeks, he told AFP.

The protected zone covers 3.8 square kilometers (almost 1.5 square miles) of beach as well as adjacent sea waters, according to its website.

Volunteers from youth associations clean a contaminated beach in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre on February 27, 2021, following last week’s offshore oil spill that drenched the northern Israeli coastline and reached parts of the neighboring Lebanese beaches. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

As well as endangered loggerhead and green sea turtles, the beach provides shelter for the Arabian spiny mouse.

Hamze had said previously that the pollution could continue washing up on Lebanese shores for up to three months.

A survey of the area using drones is not yet complete, but he said the damage was extensive in the south while tar had even landed on the beach further north in the capital Beirut.

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