Israel's Coastal Plain Has 90 Species of Endangered Plants, Study Finds

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Dunes in Ashdod, 2014.
Dunes in Ashdod, 2014.Credit: Pavel Tolchinsky

A number of ecosystems in Israel, particularly those in the Coastal Plain, are almost or completely unprotected, according to a new survey which shows that parts of Israel fall short of the international standard.

The Coastal Plain has nearly 90 species of endangered plants of which 28 are either unique to Israel or at most extend to the surrounding countries, according to the study.

The survey and mapping project by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has been underway for the past two years. It was conducted in order to find out whether Israel meets the standards of the international treaty on protection of biodiversity.

The treaty calls for at least 17 percent of a country’s land mass to be legally protected (by nature reserves or forests) and the protected areas should be those with the highest biodiversity.

The new survey, which mapped 17 different terrestrial ecosystems in Israel, found that nationwide nearly 20 percent is considered protected. But that figure is misleading, because many of these areas are in the sparsely settled Negev. Almost 60 percent of the arid southern Negev is protected.

But in areas characterized by intensive residential development and farming, some ecosystems are only minimally protected. For example, only 12 percent of the dunes on the Coastal Plain, and only 5 percent of the areas of hamra soil and the special environment of hills made of calcareous sandstone, known locally as kurkar, are protected.

The figure for the area of the Zvulun Valley west of Haifa and the Harod Valley in the north is even lower — just 3.9 percent.

Only 6.5 percent of the special shrub-studded areas known as batha are protected, and only 6.7 percent of the areas on the ecologically sensitive edge of the desert.

The survey’s findings appeared last week in the Hebrew-language journal Ecology and Environment, published by the Israeli Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.

The survey analyzes the situation in each of Israel’s 17 ecosystems, noting how much of each one is included in an area defined as a nature reserve, a national park or a forest, which gives them legal protection.

The researchers found that the areas that are poorly protected are also those where many species of plants unique to Israel are found. Out of nearly 90 species of endangered plants on the Coastal Plain, about 28 are unique to Israel or at most extend to the surrounding countries.

Irises are one such species. Last year an iris cluster on a hill in Nes Tziona south of Tel Aviv was damaged by earthworks, and another such cluster was damaged under the same circumstances in the Poleg Stream east of Netanya.

All-terrain vehicles are constantly damaging the kurkar hills on the Coastal Plain, while areas of loess soil in the Negev are threatened by overgrazing and illegal construction at unrecognized Bedouin villages.

The nature protection authorities say not many areas are left to declare as protected due to various development needs.

However, wherever possible, such lands should be declared protected and efforts must be made to persuade planning authorities to limit development in sensitive areas even if they do not currently have protected status.

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