Visitors to the Einot Tzukim nature reserve near the Dead Sea might be surprised to discover two new pools at the site. The artificial pools were created by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority as part of its effort to stem the damaging side effects of the Dead Sea's receding water levels. The authority plans to create additional such pools, to replace the habitats that have been harmed, although officials admit they do not know if this plan can ultimately save what is known as “the world’s lowest nature reserve.”
The Einot Tzukim (Ein Fashkha) reserve is one of the most important aquatic habitats in the Judean desert. It is home to a high concentration of plant and animal species, and dozens of springs and natural pools. The shores of the Dead Sea used to reach the preserve’s limits, making it a popular site, but the sea's dropping water levels (estimated to be a meter per year) have separated it from the reserve, leaving behind a muddy surface that is dangerous for visitors -- so much so that the Nature and Parks Authority cut off access from the reserve to the sea several years ago.
The distance between Einot Tzukim and the Dead Sea did great harm to the ground structure and to the distribution of water sources within the nature reserve. Spring water, which previously had flowed directly to the sea, began to create deep channels underground, gnawing away at the land in the nature reserve. This geological process, called undermining, occurs when the ground undergoes a process of weathering and erosion, causing water to wash away the upper levels of earth. In a few isolated areas, the channels destroyed plant life and caused the natural water sources to dry up.
The Dead Sea's dwindling water levels have also changed the way fresh groundwater flows to the area, such that the water now flows directly to the sea, instead of filling the pools and springs as it did in the past. One of the site’s largest pools, which used to be called “the lake,” now looks like nothing more than a small pool. Site manager Eldad Hazan said that the pool is one of the last habitats for the Jordan Tilapia fish.
A nature preserve, by definition, is meant to be an area with minimal human intervention, but in the case of Einot Tzukim, Nature and Parks Authority officials understood they had no choice but to intervene.
“We decided to build a few pools in the area that would absorb the water flowing into the preserve, in place of the pools that dried up,” Hazan said. “The idea is that these pools would create new habitats for plants and animals. The decrease in the water level is so severe that, in this case, we needed to intervene,” he said. Two pools have been completed in recent weeks, and natural vegetation quickly sprouted up. There are plans to build more pools, but a budget to fund the plans has not yet been created.
According to Hazan, aside from creating a small earth barrier around the land, no additional work was done at the site, and the pools were created by the natural flow of water.
If the pools do achieve their purpose over time and bring about renewed vegetation, the Jordan Tilapia fish could return as well. Yet it is still unclear what steps the authority might have to take if the Dead Sea’s water levels continue to decline.