If you have spent at least one day in Israel as a tourist, you will surely have visited some of the nearly 70 sites run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). They include such popular destinations as the Hula Nature Reserve, Caesarea, Masada, Ein Gedi, the Jerusalem Walls, Ben Gurions grave, Eilats Coral Beach and many more must-see attractions. INPA is entrusted with protecting Israels natural landscape and heritage, and is responsible for all of the countrys nature reserves and national parks – accounting for approximately 20% of the total land – as well as for sites with historical and cultural significance.
In addition to administering and caring for all the nature reserves, INPA is also involved with a range of admirable projects, which fall into three main categories: protecting and fostering Israels flora and fauna, conserving and restoring heritage sites, and educating the public about the importance of protecting nature.
The Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation was recently founded in order to support INPA and especially its special nature and heritage-related projects. Since surveys indicate that Jews around the world feel strongly about supporting natural and historical sites in Israel, the Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation decided to look for a way to harness this interest and facilitate international support for INPA projects, explains Uzi Barzilay, the Foundations Executive Director.
The result is Israel Pass, a new initiative that combines free entrance to all INPA sites for the whole family with a tangible donation to a preservation or education project. For only $18 per month ($216 a year), Israel Pass offers friends of Israel around the world an opportunity to become INPA partners and to actually make a difference. Donors can earmark their support according to the type of project they choose, and the whole family (parents and children under the age of 18) enjoy free entrance to all the parks and heritage sites in Israel for an entire year. Israel Pass is partially tax deductible.
Nature, heritage or education?
One of the three categories of projects donors can select is Nature. The projects in this group ensure that various species of flora and fauna are saved from endangerment or extinction, while eliminating harmful or invasive species whenever possible. Some notable projects in this category include the Sea Turtle Rescue Center (see sidebar) and the Reintroduction into the Wild project, involving mainly Persian Fallow Deer, vultures and Arabian Oryx.
Another exciting heritage project currently under way is the archaeological excavation and reconstruction of the ancient synagogue uncovered in Caesarea, dating from the time of Herod the Great. This synagogue may in fact have been where the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans broke out. The goal is to open the site to the public and, eventually, to build a museum about the Jews in ancient Caesarea.
In addition to nature and heritage-based projects, Israel Pass holders can also opt to contribute to educational programs. The Israel Nature and Heritage Foundation assists INPA with various educational programs that focus on youth and adolescents. The content of these programs covers an array of topics that typically emphasize issues regarding heritage and nature conservation.
Examples include the Adopt-a-Class program, Friends of the Dunes program and the Together for Nature program; each encourages children from different backgrounds to work together towards the common goal of nature protection and conservation. Adopt-a-Class helps kids from underprivileged backgrounds and those with disabilities to learn about the nature that surrounds them by bringing them on educational field trips. The Together for Nature project involves Jewish and Arab children joining together as partners in learning to safeguard their environment, thereby promoting coexistence and breaking down barriers.
Rescuing sea turtles
Although sea turtles have existed for over 150 million years, the last 100 years have seen a sharp drop in the size of the worlds sea turtle population. This decline is the result of fishing and damage to beaches and nesting sites, and has been so severe that sea turtles have been declared an endangered species.
In 1999, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority established the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center in temporary quarters at the Mevoot Yam marine boarding school in Mikhmoret. The purpose was to treat and rehabilitate sea turtles in the eastern Mediterranean, increase public awareness of the damage to the marine environment in Israel, and protect the marine and coastal environment. The ultimate dream was to transform it into a regional and international center for the treatment, rehabilitation and study of sea turtles.
Although the center was established as a temporary facility to provide emergency treatment for injured sea turtles and for educating the public about the plight of animals at risk of extinction, it has grown beyond expectations. In order to meet the need, INPA decided to build a new state-of-the-art facility.
The new Sea Turtle Rescue Center, which is in the process of being built at Alexander Stream National Park, is essentially a hospital for turtles that will enable better treatment. The center will encompass an area of about 1.5 dunams, approximately 300 meters from the beach, on the banks of the Alexander Stream. The plan for the new center, which is estimated to cost NIS 20 million, calls for 300 sq.m. of buildings, a treatment compound, treatment pools, two breeding pools with an artificial nesting beach where the turtles can nest naturally, a visitor center and a maintenance compound.
This project is currently a top priority for INPA, and Israel Pass holders will have the opportunity to help save the Mediterraneans sea turtle population by making the new Rescue Center a reality.