26 Apr 2017
Sdot Yam Kibbutz, Israel
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management

With 190 kilometers of coastline, Israel’s western shore makes up just a tiny part of the Mediterranean basin’s coast. That, however, presented no hindrance to EcoOcean becoming one of the region’s most important NGOs focused on marine and shore health.

Educating the marine activists of tomorrow:

Having rendered the sea and its shores integral to human life, EcoOcean took to land the mission of educating a future generation of marine activists. Much of that work is done within Israeli elementary schools and the NGO’s own Megelim Education Center, at its headquarters in Sdot Yam, a coastal kibbutz north of Tel-Aviv.

EcoOcean turned its mission to education eight years ago. “There was a frustration that researchers were too busy researching to be the leaders of eco-change,” said EcoOcean’s Executive Director, Arik Rosenblum. “That is when EcoOcean decided to help that change by educating young people about the sea.”

Since then, thousands of Israeli kids have gone through EcoOcean-supported educational programs, learning about coastal health and why it is important for the future. The NGO has partnerships with schools, universities, local governments, and more, and teaches in both Hebrew and Arabic.


Marine activism takes to land in Israel | The Switchers

The effectiveness of the educational program was demonstrated a few winters ago when a small oil leak crept its way towards one of Israel’s beaches. A school where EcoOcean had worked emptied its classrooms and performed an emergency clean-up of the beach to minimize the effect of the oil leak. Similarly, the NGO estimates 70% of the kids they work with are likely to be involved with one of their future beach clean-ups. This kind of activism proved to be a worthy outcome of the NGO’s educational programs. “If our kids do not go and do something at the end of our program then we have failed,” Rosenblum remarked. “We are investing our time and money in the educational program to make sure we create a new generation of people who care — and then do something about it.”

The beach is your living room:

The proactive role in creating the next generation of environmental activists has manifested itself through EcoOcean’s many community outreach events.

In 2016, the NGO ran, together with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Natures & Parks Authority, its #2minutebeachclean challenge: an event that encouraged beachgoers to properly dispose of trash littering the country’s shores. A promotional video for the event soon went viral, hitting a million views online. Over the summer, that virality translated into 100,000 people in Israel cleaning up beach litter, making the initiative one of the largest volunteer clean-up efforts the country has ever seen.


Marine activism takes to land in Israel | The Switchers

“We want people to understand that the beach is like your living room, and think about how they would keep their living room clean,” said Rosenblum. “This year, we are asking people to commit to a two-minute beach clean, as well as strategize before going to the beach. We want them to think about what they should bring so they do not leave behind marine litter.”

Parallel events partner with sailing, diving, and stand-up paddleboarding clubs to do clean-ups with their members, including scooping debris and cleaning tar off of rocks.

EcoOcean is also involved in regional efforts, and the organization is leading a group of 15 other NGOs from across the Mediterranean as they expand a clean-seas campaign. “Ecology has no borders or politics, and we’re looking for other NGOs, educational programs, and schools around the Mediterranean to do projects with,” Rosenblum expanded.


Marine activism takes to land in Israel | The Switchers

Helping others steer the marine movement:

Keeping the sea clean largely depends on a constant supply of new research. Accordingly, EcoOcean built a state-of-the-art vessel to support knowledge gathering.

The R/V Mediterranean Explorer research vessel reached the shores of Israel in 2004, with the goal of being an affordable and accessible option for researchers and marine students. Without their vessel, Rosenblum says the cost of research in the eastern Mediterranean would be prohibitively expensive. The only other ship researchers can rent in Israel is four times larger and operated by a government agency.

EcoOcean wanted to make use of the ship as simple as possible, and researchers are allowed subsidized use of the vessel as soon as their research concept is approved by the NGO’s academic committee. “It has been a game changer for the research community in Israel, and a vehicle for regional and international research,” said Rosenblum. “We have held workshops with two countries who have no diplomatic relations with Israel, yet their researchers are studying side-by-side at sea.”

Hundreds of researchers have taken to the Mediterranean Explorer’s deck over the past 13 years, including Dr. Beverly Goodman, an Assistant Professor at the University of Haifa, and National Geographic Explorer.


Marine activism takes to land in Israel | The Switchers

“When the Mediterranean Explorer came into the picture, it provided the opportunity and the push to get marine scientists away from the easy places to work, like the Red Sea, and over to the Mediterranean. That’s very important for research and marine conservation in this area,” Goodman says.

Goodman’s first expedition with the Explorer was in 2005, and she has since used the vessel for a dozen expeditions. She and her team collect core samples in sandy shallow sediments which reveal the historical cause of tsunamis in the region, pollution patterns, and more.

“The eastern Mediterranean is really under-researched, and there is very little baseline information about what is going on here,” Goodman commented. “The characteristics of this part of the Mediterranean matter internationally — there is the highest salinity and temperatures, and when it comes to global warming, this area is where we are going to see those changes first, so research becomes even more important.”


Another star feature of the Mediterranean Explorer is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named RUTI, which enables exploration of up to 1,000 meters below sea level. It is an expensive piece of technology that researchers would not be able to afford if not for EcoOcean.

RUTI will also soon play a leading role in bringing the mysteries of marine life into classrooms. A broadcasting system is being installed aboard the Mediterranean Explorer so HD video from RUTI can be sent to schools across Israel and around the world. Students will then have the opportunity to ask researchers questions aboard the boat. High school students will also have the chance to create mini ROVs that will launch from the ship and monitor RUTI in action.

Ultimately, one goal of EcoOcean is to change how people look at their country and recognize how much of their life relies on the sea. “Here in Israel, we want people to understand that half our country is in the sea, and it gives us so much already,” said Rosenblum. “But it needs protection. You have to begin to think of yourself as a coastal country and a marine culture. There is responsibility to that.”

For EcoOcean, the hope is that the message of shared responsibility will start in Israel and sweep new shores from there.

Facebook: https://facebook.com/ecoocean.org

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ecoocean

Web: http://www.ecoocean.org/

Photo credit: Courtesy of EcoOcean

EcoOcean Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management