Building a new hotel and commercial center complex along Eilat’s Almog Beach would cause irreversible harm to the area’s coral reefs, an expert marine biologist in the region said.

“The Eilat coral reef is a natural habitat, a natural resource of utmost importance, both to science (as the northernmost coral reef in the world), and as a national resource in the fields of tourism, recreation and entertainment,” wrote Dr. Jacob Dafni, in an official objection submitted to the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building, regarding a proposed project.

The plan – which includes a 10-story, 160-room hotel as well as a commercial shopping center on a 1.2-hectare (0.8- acre) plot – is on the table of the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building, which was receiving public objections to the project up through June 1. The complex would be located directly behind the Coral World – Underwater Observatory Marine Park just over 100 meters from the shore, where the developers intend to build eight additional stories on top of an abandoned two-story building, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

SPNI had originally begun submitting its objections over a month ago, arguing as well that in order to promote this project, the National Council for Planning and Building would need to amend a clause in its National Master Plan for the Coasts of Eilat – a plan that the green group said aims to reduce development on Eilat’s southern shores. The organization has submitted about 3,000 objections from the general public, in addition to its own.

“The construction of the hotel will cause irreversible damage to the chain of scenery – sea, beach, mountain,” a statement from SPNI said. “This sequence is one of the outstanding landscape characteristics of Eilat. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists to the Underwater Observatory will be fully exposed to this damage.”

In his own objection, Dafni stressed that the reef was selected as one of the Seven Wonders of Israel in a contest conducted by the Tourism Ministry in 2011 – a reminder of its great ecological significance.

Eilat’s southern shores have already reached their capacity for project development, he argued.

“It should be noted that the Underwater Observatory in Eilat is a window into underwater nature, and as such it enables the greater public to become acquainted with the different wonders of the reef, but this project is not without environmental impact,” wrote Dafni, who has written several books on Eilat’s reefs, and previously served as a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and academic director at Eilat Regional College.

“Adding a hotel that is designated, with 10 floors, in a gap of 150 meters only, is likely to cause many types of pollution,” he continued. “There is no justification for additional damage and therefore, it is necessary to activate the principle of preventative care and reject the plan.”

In response, a partner from one of the firms planning to build the hotel, Derech HaArava Ltd., said that ever since the firm conceptualized the plan 15 years ago, SPNI and other green groups have been opposing its construction, saying that it will “disturb the observatory.”

The government is listening very carefully to the environmental organizations, and in doing so, has asked the builders to build a hotel according to green building standards, something that the developers are readily complying with, according to a planning partner, Yehuda Katav.

By virtue of the fact that the government is willing to alter a clause in the National Master Plan for Eilat for the project, the plans are certainly not harmful to the reefs, Katav told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday evening.

The plans have caused so much stress for the partners in the past 15 years that Katav said if the green groups “like the project [site], please buy it.”

He is sure, however, that the hotel will cause no environmental damage, and will be located across Road 90, on the opposite side of the shore.

“We are going to build the project according to green codes, so it never can be [that the project would damage the reefs],” he said. “What is built there now is a danger to the area. It’s open, it’s dangerous, it’s the toilet of all the area.”

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