The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has called for the country’s
policymakers to save the special habitats that make up the country’s dwindling
salt marshes, in a newly released 30-page report titled “The Salt Marshes of
Israel – Extreme and Unique Living Environment.”
The country’s salt
marshes, home to exclusive and rare species, are facing an imminent threat of
extinction, according to the report, dated January 2013. It defines salt marshes
as lands characterized by extreme salinity, brought about by underground water
flow and above ground regional topographical conditions.
which makes recommendations to policymakers, planners and educators on the
preservation of these lands, was written by Dr. Gil Ben-Natan of Ben- Gurion
University’s Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, and edited by Alon Rothschild,
biological diversity coordinator at the (SPNI).
Because most plants and
animals are unable to extract the water they need from the hyper-saline
environment of the salt marshes, only rare species exist in this environment –
those that have adapted evolutionarily to such harsh conditions, the report
explains. Some of these species are exclusive to the salt marsh environment and
require its extreme conditions to survive.
“Together, they present a
special species composition not found elsewhere,” the authors
Because salt marshes only exist when a very specific set of
conditions are given – and due to ongoing development and construction – they
are found only minimally in Israel. In the past, marshes existed only along the
northern coast, but most of these original spots have disappeared.
portions of salt marshes have survived along the Kishon River banks, but face
the threat of urban development, says the report.
Meanwhile, some salt
marshes in the Dead Sea region have been either destroyed or disrupted, as the
basin’s water level changed. A bit further south, some Arava Desert salt marshes
have been damaged, while others have been protected and even designated as
nature reserves, the report says.
Due to the fact that evolution has
occurred in the salt marshes in extremely harsh environments, these ecosystems
provide windows into “valuable biological processes” and mechanisms that can aid
the development of agriculture, industry and medicine, according to the authors
of the report.
Some of the plants that commonly appear in these saline
zones are the tamarisk tree, the monecious seablite shrub and the glacuous
glasswort – the latter two are found in the Sodom salt marsh near Ein Gedi. This
area is also inhabited by a local population of wild boars, Dead Sea sparrows
and Nubian Nightjar birds.
Other salt marshes – many of which have
suffered sever damage or have been destroyed – in the country occur in the
Kishon, Atlit, the northern Dead Sea region, Zohar, HaTzeva, Ein Yahav, Yotvata,
Eilat and Evrona, the report says.
“The salt marshes’ inherent value,
together with the increasing risk of their extinction from Israel, require
decisive action for their preservation, for present and for future generations,”
In order to facilitate this preservation, decision-makers need
to take action, such as determining a water quota for nature in salt
Secondly, authorities must work to protect habitat continuity
when possible; and at sites already fragmented, to maintain the functionality of
these ecosystems. It is likewise crucial to collect information regarding the
composition of the salt marshes, in order to be able to properly generate
management plans for both the marshes themselves and surrounding
Educational initiatives to familiarize the public with the
endangered habitat are also critical, the report adds.