The government on Sunday advised Israelis to avoid all Mediterranean beaches from north to south due to pollution from a tar spill that has reached the coastline.
The request came following a massive oil spill off the coast, which is suspected to have resulted in the death of many sea creatures, including a whale whose body washed up to the Israeli shore on Thursday.
A joint advisory issued by the Health, Interior and Environmental Protection ministry called on the public “not to go [to the beaches] to swim, or do sports or leisure activity until further notice.”
“Exposure to tar could harm public health,” the advisory read.
Several thousand people came to beaches along the Mediterranean coast on Saturday to help with the cleanup of the spill but a number were hospitalized after apparently inhaling toxic fumes.
As a result, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority told volunteers to go through a registration and safety training process.
The cause of the pollution — involving dozens of tons of tar spilled at sea — was not definitively clear and was under investigation.
Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein on Saturday called it Israel’s “worst environmental disaster in a decade.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said an oil spill had been identified about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast a week ago, and that one of 10 vessels that were in the area at the time may have been responsible.
From as north as Haifa and down south to Ashkelon near Gaza, black strips could be seen along the Mediterranean coastline. At Gador Nature Reserve near the northern city of Hadera, the tar smeared fish, turtles, and other sea creatures.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said Saturday that on an observation flight, tar spills were found moving in the direction of several beaches in Haifa. The affected areas were 200 to 500 meters (656 to 1,640 feet) from the shore, and the ministry said it was considering its response.
The Israel Defense Forces and Nature and Parks Authority said the military will assist in cleaning up the spill.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Nature and Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein have agreed that “starting this week, thousands of IDF soldiers will assist workers and volunteers for the Nature and Parks Authority in mapping areas damaged by the tar pollution, cleaning beaches and in the removal” of pollutants, according to a joint statement.