Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018

Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

  • The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm
  • Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body
EIN GEV, Israel: It was not so long ago when swimmers at Ein Gev would lay out their towels in the grass at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, they put up their parasols 100 meters (yards) further down, on a sandy beach that has appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic body of water.
“Every time we come we feel an ache in our hearts,” said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
“The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about.”
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard navigate the calm waters, among groups from across the world that visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body known to Israelis as the Kinneret and to some as Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country’s main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.
Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013 “we are below the low red line” beyond which “salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected,” said Amir Givati, hydrologist at Israel’s water authority.
The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 — except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.
“This year, we only pumped 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad state,” said Givati.
Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan between them.
Both the Dead Sea and the Jordan have also suffered from overuse.
The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.
At the water ministry, blame for its condition is placed on five years of drought.
But “climatic factors alone are inadequate to explain the record shrinkage of the Sea of Galilee,” wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
Irrigated agriculture, pumping and diversions are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country’s birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to “make the desert bloom,” as its early pioneers put it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the country.
“Lake Tiberias was used as a national reservoir,” said Julie Trottier, a professor who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
A man-made canal supplied water to the west toward the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.
That system has not been in place for some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake’s input.
Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer enough to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches at Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, immense nets cover banana trees whose leaves wilt with the surrounding dry vegetation.
“We call it the valley of bananas,” said Meir Barkan, tourism director for the Ein Gev resort.
“When they began planting trees, there was no water problem and the banana is the only fruit that you harvest year-round.”
But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are a main player in the “competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism,” said Eran Feitelson, geography professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to “kill agriculture and the local economy,” but to use less water.
Authorities propose providing the region with desalinated water via the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow down naturally.
But “that would be very expensive,” said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In his open palm, he displays a Saint Peter’s fish just pulled from his nets, barely bigger than his hand.
“The solution can only come from the government — or from the sky,” he said.
He points to the half-abandoned dock which pilgrims’ boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to disembark on the bank.
“I am really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state,” Lev said.

Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

A two bedroom villa at the Six Senses in Zighy Bay. (Supplied)
Updated 13 December 2018

Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

  • The luxurious resort Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village
  • The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical

DUBAI: After a two-hour drive from Dubai, crossing the border at Dibba into Musandam, Oman, we found ourselves, alone, surrounded by mountainous rocks only made visible by the full moon. The headlights of the car showed a long stretch of endless rough road ahead to us, and no sign of the highly exclusive, luxury resort to which we were headed.

But this is just one of many ways to enter Six Senses Zighy Bay, the holiday resort that has hosted the likes of Bill Gates and Arab royals. You can make a James Bond-style entrance by speedboat from Dibba Marina or, if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, by paraglide tandem.

On our more prosaic road trip, we finally reached the resort, where we were welcomed by Six Senses’ friendly staff, and a 4x4, into which we climbed for the drive up the steep mountain to the resort.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village, shielded by Al-Hajjar mountain range, giving it the privacy most VIPs look for. The story goes that, before the owners were able to build the resort, they had to strike a deal with the villagers, building them new homes and a school, and offering them employment at the resort.
The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical, using stones, wood, and cool desert tones, blending into the natural surroundings. It has the feel of an authentic Omani village — fitted with modern-day luxuries. There are 82 spacious beach villas with their own private pools — fashioned to resemble stone huts — and high walls for privacy.

Inside the open-plan villas, there is a lounge area with glass doors that open out to the infinity pool area, complete with loungers and a majlis. In the bathroom there is a large stone bath and a shower (there’s also a shower outdoors).
For anyone caught-up in the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the first thing you notice is the deafening silence. The distant sound of waves crashing ashore and background birdsong only add to the peaceful tranquility.

The brand’s identity is based on a stripped-back, organic lifestyle in tune with nature and the outdoors. And the whole operation seems effortless. This, in fact, is far from the reality as the resort has a staff of just over 400 to keep things running smoothly.
When it comes to food, the resort is committed to the brand’s philosophy of making food “healthy by default.” They do this by growing as much of the produce as possible in their organic garden or sourcing from local farms.

During our stay we had a taste of their newly launched menus, created by celebrity chef James Knight-Pacheco, in the mountain-top restaurant, Sense on the Edge, which offers breathtaking views. The menu uses French and Japanese techniques with regional flavors for a fine-dining experience. The principle idea behind the menu stems from the concept of “land and sea.” It consists of five- and seven-course “journeys” of meats and poultry (a personal favorite), “voyages” of seafood, or “expeditions” for vegetarians. There’s also a fresh tapas menu at the Zighy Bar, the shining stars of which are their chorizo empanadas.

But the real feast is at the “Spiced Market” breakfast buffet: All types of seasonal fruits, a selection of cheeses, eggs cooked to your taste, or Middle Eastern favorites shakshouka and foul medames.
Aside from its traditionally themed luxury and the variety of food on offer, the real highlight of a stay at Six Senses is the range of activities available. After paragliding over the resort, we went scuba diving (spotting Nemo the clown fish three times). We didn’t have time for rock climbing, mountain biking, or — sadly — a treatment at the resort’s signature spa.

Overall a stay at Six Senses is bound to be unforgettable, with a laid-back luxury that makes it stand out from the high-end competition. Along with its dramatic mountain setting, calming sea views and accommodating staff, it makes for a perfect romantic getaway or an ideal holiday for a young family. But it doesn’t come cheap: Expect a bill to match the exclusive luxury.