Lebanese began cleaning beaches on Saturday after an oil spill deposited tar over large stretches of the coast in the southern part of the country.
A storm more than a week ago threw tonnes of the sticky, black substance onto beaches in neighbouring Israel, apparently after leaking from an oil tanker off the Israeli coast.
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Within days the spill had spread to southern Lebanon, where clumps of tar contaminated beaches stretching from the border town of Naqura to the southern city of Tyre.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about $14m had been earmarked to clean up the country’s shoreline, in what has been described as Israel’s biggest environmental disaster.
In Lebanon, the management of Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, one of the country’s last remaining sandy beaches and an important nesting site for endangered loggerhead and green sea turtles, said the spill could endanger marine life and biodiversity in the area.
Mouin Hamze, director of the reserve, told reporters that the cleaning operation will take at least 15 days.
“We will begin to remove the tar spots starting from the reserve coast, and hundreds of volunteers will help in the cleaning operation,” he said.
“The nature reserve is suffering from approximately 2 tonnes of tar, 90 percent of which is hidden under the sand,” he added.
The protected zone covers 3.8 square kilometres (almost 1.5 square miles) of the beach as well as adjacent sea waters, according to its website.
The reserve was included in the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance in 2012.
Hamze had said previously that the pollution could continue washing up on Lebanese shores for up to three months.
A survey of the area using drones is not yet complete, but he said the damage was extensive in the south while tar had even landed on the beach further north in the capital Beirut.
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told the DPA news agency that UNIFIL is studying ways to possibly help Lebanon counter the threat of an oil spill.
“UNIFIL has been contacted by local authorities to see what help can be provided within our available capabilities and equipment. We are studying these requests to see how we can help,” Tenenti said.