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New Mediterranean reserve planned to protect creatures in the sand and sea

Evtach Marine Reserve, offshore between Ashdod and Ashkelon, will help rehabilitate area damaged by aggressive fishing, boosters say

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A species of flying fish at the Evtach marine reserve. (Guy Lavian/Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
A species of flying fish at the Evtach marine reserve. (Guy Lavian/Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

A planned marine reserve in the Mediterranean Sea neared reality Tuesday after the district planning committee gave it the go-ahead, paving the way for the protection of 700 species, including dolphins, rays, and flying fish.

The 67,000-dunam (16,600-acre) Evtach reserve, will extend seven kilometers (4.35 miles) out to sea, starting 300 meters (985 feet) from the coastal dunes of the Nitzan Nature Reserve between Ashdod and Ashkelon. The reserve will be approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) wide, and reach depths of 5.5 to 38 meters (18 to 125 feet).

With the Nitzan sands reaching into the sea, the marine reserve will constitute a seamless extension from surf to turf, covering a wealth of habitats at different depths. Two small marine reserves already exist between the beach and the 300-meter line.

With the Southern District Planning Committee’s okay, the final step remaining is for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to declare the area an official reserve.

At the reserve’s heart is a large submerged rock that is home to a wide variety of creatures seeking stability in an environment that is otherwise constantly moving because of the the waves.

The interim director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Raya Shourky, noted that the new reserve hosts ecosystems not found in any of Israel’s other, existing marine parks.

The sandy seabed has been damaged over the years by bottom trawling, a method of fishing that tows a net along the seafloor, catching fish and everything else there is, with whatever is not needed commercially throw back. This includes large quantities of fish and animals that died in the massive net.

Once the area is declared a reserve, fishing there will be banned. An additional 53,000 dunams (13,000 acres) of the sea to the reserve’s north and south will be defined as an official fishing area, though bottom trawling there will also be prohibited.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel took credit for the absolute ban on fishing within the reserve.

SPNI, which has campaigned hard for the creation of the reserve, said the decision was an important step in the protection of sandy marine habitats. Hidden from the human eye was a rich variety of creatures that bury themselves in the sand, it said.

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