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In recent weeks, hundreds of cormorant seabirds have been spotted on the banks of the infamously polluted Kishon River. The Great Cormorants have migrated south from Europe and chosen the Kishon as their winter home. But while this signals the encouraging return of animal life, serious pollution problems and a shortage of clean water still threatens those animals.

The cormorants seek water sources with sufficient fish, and dive for their prey. As the water quality in Kishon River has gradually improved, the birds have returned to the area and 370 of them were counted in recent weeks. The large black birds trap fish in the river and nest in large groups in the trees on the river banks.

One flock of the birds is known to frequent a huge eucalyptus tree opposite the Oil Refineries facility near the river.

Some of the animals that have returned to the Kishon, including fish and crustaceans, originated further upstream and have multiplied as the water acidity dropped and the quality of industrial waste dumped in the river improved.

Artificial methods

Park rangers have also tried to artificially boost animal populations.

"We brought in 120 softshell turtles, 50 of which hatched in our own hatchery. We found two softshell turtle nests along the banks of the river," said Sharon Nissim of the Kishon River Authority.

According to expert surveys, rare plant life is also returning to the Kishon, much of it near the river delta, known as the "Appendix."

However, substantial threats to the habitat remain. In the past year, there have been about 20 pollution incidents in the Kishon and its tributaries, mostly the result of sewage treatment malfunctions.

One such event killed off fish life in the Gedora tributary.

Gasoline spills were discovered in that stream in recent weeks and special equipment was brought in to siphon them off.

There is still a great deal of pollution in the Kishon riverbed. The Kishon River Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry plan to remove the trash in a dangerous and expensive operation. However, flooding could scatter the trash and harm animal life in the region.

The river's future rehabilitation is not only dependent on sewage being treated before it is dumped, but also a continued supply of fresh water from natural sources.

The authority recently drafted a plan to pour in ground water extracted from the Jezreel Valley, in addition to the springs that feed the river naturally. Due to the severe drought, it is unclear when this plan will become feasible.