In the formerly uninhabitable polluted waters of the Kishon River, a record amount of marbled ducks have returned to the body of water’s rehabilitated reservoirs.

A survey ecologist Shai Agmon recently conducted brought the Kishon Drainage and Streams Authority the “happy surprise” of 112 of the rarest ducks in Israel, 79 of which were living in one reservoir alone.

The team observed the ducks in four valleys of the region, but “because of the intense heat we didn’t reach all of the reservoirs; the numbers may be even higher,” according to Agmon.

While the river was once considered the most polluted in all of Israel – and has even been blamed for a high presence of cancer among IDF veterans who had trained there – after advanced rehabilitations, the river has seen a gradual return of wildlife.

The marbled ducks are a very beautiful and rare type of seafowl, and are in danger of extinction in Israel, the Kishon Drainage Authority said, citing the Red Book of Vertebrates in Israel. Up until the middle of the last century, there were hundreds of pairs of marbled ducks mating in the Upper Galilee region, but in recent years, the population has all but disappeared.

Information from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel affirmed that the marbled ducks have in recent years only been a rare resident of the Hula Valley and a winter visitor to northern Israel. The species, however, had been relatively common in the Hula Valley at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Nesting pairs decreased significantly in recent decades – globally considered a “vulnerable” species and regionally considered “critically endangered.”

A professional study conducted in the 1990s for the entire Jezreel Valley region showed only four ducks present during that time period, Agmnon said.

This year, however, was quite a successful nesting season, with many families observed in various stages of growth, according to the Kishon Drainage Authority.

The authority is responsible for treating the pooling basin of the Kishon River, a 1,100-square km. area stretching from Jenin to the Haifa Bay. It conducts regular drainage checks and performs flooding prevention in the pooling basin, and also maintains water quality and cultivates the land around the streams.

The most important ongoing project to the authority is the Kishon Diversity Project (Haniftol Project), with its workers taking part in a NIS 220 million national project to divert different portions of the rehabilitated river in the Haifa Bay region, the authority said.

Simultaneously, the Kishon Drainage Authority is also working with the Kishon River Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry to oversee a seven-km. by 2.5-meter excavation of contaminated sediments on the riverbed floor.

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