A great love wasn’t there. I first met them when I was a young member of an UpperGalilee kibbutz. In the mid 1950’s I went to Eilat with a friend, and endured two days ofcar-hiking, through the Negev Highlands and Mitzpe Ramon, who was atthat time a roadconstruction labor camp, for the newly-paved road to Eilat. The second day of our journey we made in a huge "Titanic" truck where we were huddledin a seat next to thedriver, witnesses swearing of the driver on every bump along thedirt road to Eilat. Wearrived to Eilat in a moonless night and the lights of a millionstars joined faint lights fromthe opposite shore, from Aqaba, and the few ships moored in the bay. We fell asleepquickly, dead tired by the journey, next to the fence of the “Shekem”canteen the onlybuilding on the beach then. A two-story building, a hotel, was underconstruction then onthe north coast, deserted at the weekend
In the morning I was awakened by the blinding sunlight over the calm sea and deepblue, without a wrinkle of a wave. Before we went to the look for after any food or watersource, I jumped into the blue water, but within two minutes I jumped outside, trying todraw black spines driven into my bare foot. This was my first encounter with a Long-spine Black Urchin (
). Luckily there were only a few spines,and I couldn’t get off, but breaking them in the foot and bearing the pain that lastedthroughout our stay in Eilat. The corals, however,I met only on my second visit, six yearslater, made for more practical purposes
Like most teenagers at that time I also went the routine of armyservice and fulfilled thenational pathway of the kibbutz. Like most of my generation, I finally deserted the path ofcollective life and found my own way in the developing Negev. Love of nature hadalready touched me, and the call of the
Society for the Protection of nature in Israel
(SPNI), a small non-government organization (NGO) with a long name, with an agendato oppose the national slogan “We shall clothe the land with concrete and cement" andfight the destruction of natural landscape that accompanied the feverish developmentindependence brought and the challenge of absorbing millions of immigrants, made me join their ranks. I was offered to goto Eilat to help stopping the looting of corals, that wasthen at its height. The SPNI, through an Israeli“chutzpah”decided to take charge ofasmall stretch of coast at Eilat, and turn it into a nature reserve. I would later learn that thisnature reserve was in fact the first of its kind worldwide. The mission was a realchallenge, with no existinglaw, or regulations at our aid, only a stubborn determinationofa handful of guides-wardens, who made a living guiding tours into the desert buttheir“free”hours were spent on the beach, where they fought a score of “Eilati’s" who made aliving picking coral from the sea, drying and selling them to travelers.HereI found the black urchin truly helpful. The few tourists who ventured into the waterto pick themselves a coral were deterred by the urchins. The “experts“were notintimidated by them. They needed more elaborated methods, and it was a long strugglefinally won..