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.

The report, 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 write.

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.

Some 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,” it says.

In order to facilitate this preservation, decision-makers need to take action, such as determining a water quota for nature in salt marshes.

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 areas.

Educational initiatives to familiarize the public with the endangered habitat are also critical, the report adds.

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