The Dead Sea moved forward in the international Seven Wonders of Nature competition on Thursday - now the only Israeli site among the 77 worldwide contenders. Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov announced an international campaign for the Dead Sea to win the competition, by emphasizing the uniqueness of this natural wonder. Prior to this last cut, Ein Gedi, the Rosh Hanikra rock formation, and the Red Sea Reef were also among the nominees, and Israel was the leading nation in the Middle East, ahead of Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. This time, the Dead Sea is the only one to move forward. The competition aims to raise awareness of conservation issues and bring increased tourism to protect these wonders for the future generations. The Dead Sea, sitting some 420 meters below sea level, is shrinking at an alarming rate. Gura Berger, public relations spokesman for the Megillot Dead Sea Regional Council, said that "part of the idea behind listing the Dead Sea for this competition was to raise international public awareness about this bad situation. I believe that winning is to be able to tell people that the Dead Sea is vanishing at a rate of more than a meter a year." Berger said the municipality had organized a rock festival dedicated to helping the Dead Sea and "calling people to vote," as well as the "Tour of the Dead Sea" campaign and many other events. "Winning in such a competition means a lot [not only] in terms of tourism, but also about caring for the environment," said Berger. "If we win, it means that we care where we liveâ€¦ and this is the real victory." According to Amnon Lieberman, media adviser to the tourism minister, there is "no doubt [the nomination] will increase tourism and attract public attention from all over the world. This competition will allow us [also] to emphasize why the Dead Sea is so unique." Asked whether he was optimistic about the final nomination of the Dead Sea, Lieberman said, "This candidacy is still lasting after a year. It has already been through two phases, and I hope that we will get to the final phase." The voting for the final round will begin July 22 at www.new7wonders.com, and is expected to continue into 2011. Other sites competing for a spot as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature include the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, the Galapagos Islands, Niagara Falls, Mount Fuji, the Black Forest, the Maldives Islands and many others.