Israel gains first Hope Spot - marine conservation site - by Tel Aviv

The ridge off the coast of Tel Aviv is in the process of being recognized as a protected area. An international non-profit urges Israel to disallow any exploration of fossil fuels in the area.

 Marine life at the Palmahim Slide. (photo credit: University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research)
Marine life at the Palmahim Slide.
(photo credit: University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research)

Despite the deep sea being mostly untouched and unexplored, Israel is making moves to protect a small part of it.

The Palmahim Slide is a section of deep-sea waters off the coast of Tel Aviv. It is approximately 35 kilometers offshore, with depths between 400 and 1,200 meters. Located in Israel's Mediterranean Exclusive Economic Zone, the area features narrow and steep ridges on the continental shelf.

Home to endangered species of coral and sharks, the area has biodiversity never before seen in the southeastern areas of the Mediterranean sea.

The deep waters are also breeding grounds for both Bluefin tuna and Blackmouth catsharks. Other species, including some endangered ones, were spotted during a survey in 2010.

"I really support the efforts of the champions there and the policymakers in Israel to follow in the footsteps of the Hope Spot's launch and to declare the Palmahim Slide as a no-take, give-back marine reserve."

Dr. Sylia Earle

Protect the area

Ecologists from organizations like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority believe the area needs to be protected. They submitted a request and plan for it to become a reserve. A draft of the proposal was submitted on June 8, 2022, World Oceans Day.

 Marine wildlife at the Palmahim Slide. (credit: University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research) Marine wildlife at the Palmahim Slide. (credit: University of Haifa and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research)

However, the area was recently promised to the Israeli Energy Ministry for the purpose of gas exploration. SPNI is currently negotiating and working with the ministry to ensure that there is only sustainable work done there. The habitat is sensitive, and oil and gas exploration risks its delicate structures and marine life.

Mission Blue, an internationally known marine conservation nonprofit, has officially declared the area as a "Hope Spot" – an area of ocean with designated protection under Mission Blue. Their hope is that Israel will protect the area, and impose rules that will prohibit anyone from harming it, and only help improve it.

Founder Dr. Sylia Earle spoke out in support of the proposal: "I really support the efforts of the champions there and the policymakers in Israel to follow in the footsteps of the Hope Spot's launch and to declare the Palmahim Slide as a no-take, give-back marine reserve."

Earle urges that there also be a buffer area, recommending that it begin 25 km. off the coast, 10 km. before the Palmahim Slide itself.

She also urges against any fossil fuel extraction. "I'm hopeful that the ministers of environment, justice, interior and agriculture of Israel will lead the way for genuine protection of this wonderful, irreplaceable Hope Spot."