A new report by HaMaarag provides evidence of knowledge gaps in the assessment of aquatic habitats

אילנית בביצה בראשון לציון, צולם על ידי עידו ארמיאץ'

Winter is nearing, and now is the time to determine the state of the most threatened aquatic habitats in Israel – the aquatic habitats. Overgrazing, invasive plants, pollution and water pumping have left them in a severe state. How severe? We do not know.

The ‘State of Nature Report: Aquatic Habitats – 2014’, published in September 2014 by HaMaarag, paints a worrying picture of large knowledge gaps with respect to aquatic habitats. The report assesses the state of about 500 sites that represent the Mediterranean and desert regions in Israel. It found that for about a quarter of the sites there is no biological information, including information on invasive species; while for half of the sites that were assessed in the survey, information about aquatic invertebrates that inhabit these habitats is lacking. Also with regards to various external factors, such as grazing, leisure, and effluent of poisons and nutrients, much information is missing. Therefore, the report recommends developing a systematic monitoring schedule for the aquatic habitats, and encourages the joint initiative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Nature and Parks Authority and Tel-Aviv University to establish the ‘Taxonomic database for biodiversity in aquatic habitats’.

The report also found that use of aquatic habitats as a leisure resource is growing. This particularly includes cisterns and desert springs, that are especially sensitive to such use. In order to maintain the balance between human needs and nature, the report recommends assessing the consequences of this use on the natural ecosystem. This process has already begun, and includes a number of studies and surveys, initiated by the Nature and Parks and Authority and the river administrations.

Another prominent use is grazing, that may have a negative effect due to trampling, wallowing and fertilization by feces and urine. However these problems are nothing in comparison to construction plans. In this respect the report recommends working on the statutory position of these sites, to turn them into nature reserves or national parks.

The report was written by Dr. Didi Kaplan and Roee Gutman, guided by an expert committee, and edited by Dr. Naama Berg. Within this report, existing knowledge about 500 selected sites in the Mediterranean and desert regions was sorted and edited. The report evaluates their current state by means of different indices and provides conclusions and recommendation. You may read the full report (in hebrew ) here.