While human activity over the years led to great deterioration in Israel’s wetland environments, a transformation in conservational attitudes across the board provides hope for the future, an expert told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“I believe that we are on the right track,” said Dana Milstein, an aquatic ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). “We see changes.”
Milstein was speaking to the Post prior to World Wetlands Day, held annually on February 2, and marking the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971.
While wetlands may seem few and far between in a country filled with desert land, the country does actually have many wetlands that the environmental authorities continue to preserve.
The INPA will be holding numerous activities throughout the weekend, at nature reserves and national parks, to celebrate the longevity of the country’s wetlands.
A new success story in Israel’s wetland conservation efforts is the rehabilitation of Einot Tzukim, saline wetlands located just north of the Dead Sea.
Together with the Agriculture Ministry, the INPA has been constructing pools in the area to preserve the native fish to the region, as spring water is trickling northwards, away from the reserve, Milstein said.
This is the only known place in which populations of Blue and Dead Sea Killifish live side by side, according to Milstein.
Known as Nevit khula and Nevit Yam Hamelach in Hebrew, the two types of fish are members of the Aphanius genus of pupfish.
Two of the three 0.4-0.6-hectare pools are already complete, and groups of Blue Killifish and Dead Sea Killifish have populated each of them – already accumulating to tens of thousands, Milstein said.
As the natural streams in the Einot Tzukim area continue to dry out, the INPA and Agriculture Ministry also took steps to preserve the tilapia population.
They moved the tilapia from the natural streams into one of the new pools, while those that were bred in captivity were transferred to the second pool.
Because the area is a sensitive nature reserve, it is largely closed to public visitation, aside from tours conducted every Friday. This Friday specifically, the pools will be inaugurated for the public in honor of World Wetlands Day, Milstein said.
“This day is oriented to the pools,” she added. “They call it brachot la brachot [‘blessings for the pools’].”
Despite the destruction to Israel’s wetlands, which plagued the country in the past, Milstein said she is encouraged to see the INPA, Environmental Protection Ministry and Water Authority working together to rehabilitate these areas and “bring back water to nature.”
She particularly praised the Water Authority for “speaking our language” and understanding that wetlands thrive when showered with natural spring water.
“Now they accept that for natural habitats and wetlands the water should come from the original source,” Milstein said. “Water from nature can’t come from pipes.”
In addition to the Einot Tzukim event on both Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the INPA will also be celebrating World Wetlands Day with the public on Saturday, at the Hula Nature Reserve from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Ein Afek Nature Reserve from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Yarkon National Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Besor National Park from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.