Surfers protest plans for breakwater off last open beach in Tel Aviv

Adi Gluska, 12-time Israel surfing champion, says submerged geotube planned by Tel Aviv Municipality will strike blow to surfing, endanger swimmers, cause pollution

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Surfers protest plans to install a breakwater at the last open beach in Tel Aviv, October 4, 2019. (eyesurf productions)
Surfers protest plans to install a breakwater at the last open beach in Tel Aviv, October 4, 2019. (eyesurf productions)

Plans to install a breakwater in the sea off the last open beach in Tel Aviv, where Israel’s 2020 Olympic surfing hopeful, Anat Lelior, sometimes trains, will strike a blow to surfing in the center of the country, endanger swimmers, and pollute the environment, protesters have warned.

The Tel Aviv Municipality says that a submerged geotube — a fabric tube stuffed with sand — is the best way to protect the beach and cliff at Zuk (Cliff) Beach in northern Tel Aviv from the ravages of winter storms.

Officials plan to locate the tube three meters below the water’s surface, some 250 meters (820 feet) off the coast. Initially 400 meters long, it will be extended to a kilometer if successful. Work is expected to start in the spring.

But surfers, 200 of whom demonstrated on Friday along with representatives of the marine environment group Zalul, say that a similar geotube tried out off the coast of Ashkelon to the south partially ripped apart because it was unable to withstand the force of the waves. Fabric from the plastic shell has since settled on the sea floor, polluted nearby beaches and been swept northwards by currents.

A section of the Ashkelon geotube that was ripped apart by the force of the waves (screenshot)

Adi Gluska, a 12-time Israel surfing champion, and lawyer and surfer Eyal Szmulewitz, co-leaders of the Tel Aviv protest, warn that breakwaters not only catch debris and cause pollution but can endanger swimmers because of the eddies, whirlpools and other kinds of currents that are created when the waves hit the barrier.

They point to a 2010 document issued by the government company for the protection of cliffs that determined that there was no danger to the cliff at this beach from the direction of the sea.

“If they really want to protect the cliff, there are many other things they can do before putting a plastic tube the length of four trains into the sea,” Gluska said. “They can fence it off to stop people walking down it, deal with runoff rainwater from the street above and erect fencing up which plants can climb to stabilize the soil. But they haven’t done any of this. There isn’t even a sign warning people of any danger.”

He went on, “The committee for the preservation of the beach environment [a government body within the Finance Ministry that approves and funds projects on the beach] has stopped the project in Ashkelon. New facts are being learned about what happened there. The Tel Aviv Municipality, which started working on this project before the Ashkelon fiasco, says it has learned from the mistakes. But how can that be, when the committee is still investigating?”

Adi Gluska. (Screenshot)

Reacting to a municipal official’s assertion that the geotube will be based on a model successfully used in Cannes in the south of France, Gluska said, “Cannes hardly has any waves, unlike here, where the power of the waves is very strong.”

Szmulewitz added, “Their real intention is to expand the beach, but they can do that in other ways, for example by bringing sand from elsewhere in Tel Aviv or using some of the extensive adjacent lawn for beach instead. The geotube won’t result in more sand, and whatever sand it does bring in will be at the expense of other beaches.”

Protesters begin to gather at a lawn area close to Cliff Beach in Tel Aviv, October 4, 2019. (eyesurf productions)

Szmulewitz said that all of the city’s beaches, from Jaffa in the south to Tel Baruch in the north, had already been closed in by breakwaters of one sort or another. Surfers could only use beaches such as the Hilton and Dolpinarium on around 50 days of the year, when the waves were particularly high, while they could surf 200 days a year at Zuk Beach, which is specifically zoned for sea sports.

A geotube there would reduce the waves by 25 to 50 percent, he said.

Gluska and Szmulewitz have been unable to ascertain whether the municipality ever fulfilled an instruction by the committee for the preservation of the beach environment to supply surveys and models about the geotube’s likely impact on environmental factors such as wave direction.

A protester holds a sign saying, Tel Aviv Municipality: Don’t Destroy Nature (Rimon-Cohen)

They plan to take their case to the High Court if the municipality presses on with the project.

A statement from the Tel Aviv Municipality said, “In contrast to what is being claimed, we are acting in accordance with the law and what has been demanded by the authorized authorities in Israel.

In recent years, there’s been a worsening of the damage caused by winter storms to the cliff and to structures on the beach. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality reached the conclusion that a solution was needed to moderate the force of the waves and, after reviewing alternatives, chose the solution of a submerged wavebreaker, which requires minimal interference with nature.

“This solution is different from the one implemented in Ashkelon and relies on a successful experience in France, which has proved itself over the past decade.”

The statement said that the municipality was committed both to ensuring the safety of activities along the coast and to striking a balance between all the users of the sea — swimmers, surfers and divers alike.

Experts had analyzed the impact of the geotube on the currents and the environment, the statement concluded.

Surfer Anat Lelior, Israel’s representative at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Screenshot)

Surfing is a popular sport in Israel, with an estimated 400,000 practitioners. In 2004, windsurfer Gal Fridman became the first and only Israeli to date to win an Olympic gold medal. Anat Lelior, 19, is the first regular surfer to qualify for the Olympics. She will represent the country in Tokyo next year.

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