Israel’s population density is the 32nd highest in the world, according to the World bank, and with its high fertility rate of 3.04 births per woman and tens of thousands of new immigrants arriving every year, its population is growing at an annual rate of 1.6%.
The little Jewish state is expected to become significantly more crowded in the coming years and decades. Just look at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and its other cities and see how apartment towers are replacing low housing.
The growing population obviously affects the number of natural spaces and the environment. Now the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Jewish National Fund, the Nature and Parks Authority and Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History have just issued their State of Nature Report: Volume Trends and Threats 2022. It provides data that helps government ministries and public authorities set policies and carry them out. The report presents a snapshot of key factors and processes that affect the state of nature in Israel as a result of human activity.
The document includes changes in land use, such as changes in land use for construction and agriculture; changes in plant cover of the land; the mapping of fires and their frequency; changes in open spaces; protection levels of the natural and forested areas; the intensity of artificial night lighting (“light pollution”) and its impact on ecosystems; and a comprehensive review of the impact of climate change on biodiversity.
Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg said that “reports on the status of nature in Israel are a significant part – and should become more significant – in formulating the country’s environmental policy. I am glad that this year, for the first time, detailed information by regions, species and habitats is available, and it will help us adapt our nature conservation policy to the changing world and the growing challenges.”
Prof. Tamar Dayan, chairman of the Steinhardt Museum, added that the data in the report constitute a scientific knowledge base for making decisions on managing open spaces and ecosystems in Israel, giving us an up-to-date and reliable picture on what threatens nature in Israel in the near and long term.
Much stricter regulation and tight supervision of the use of poisons in open areas and sterile cleaning of meat waste that harms wildlife is are required, said Dr. Yehoshua Shkedi, chief scientist of the Nature and Parks Authority “To prevent its spread to the environment, the state must produce a national plan for biodiversity, protect nature reserves and implement conservation and policy principles in all government ministries and in the business sector: Only in this way can we ensure the long-term existence of nature in Israel and preserve it for future generations.”
Among the findings:
The rate of loss of open spaces in Israel continues to be high and stands at about 30 square kilometers per year. Israel is a global distribution border for many species of plants and animals. Populations on the distribution border tend to be particularly vulnerable to environmental changes, including climate change, and some of these flora and fauna populations are in danger of extinction from Israel.
Artificial light pollution at night has increased by 30% in the last decade. The report shows that 67% of Israel’s areas north of Beersheba are exposed to light pollution to an extent that harms ecosystems and biodiversity. Fully 78% of Israel’s coastal strip is exposed to a high level of light pollution at night. In Eilat, coastal light pollution threatens the future of the coral reef.
Studies show that light causes increasing energy consumption, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems and affects the health and disrupts the safety of humans. It also disrupts animal behaviors including migration patterns, wake-sleep habit, and habitat formation. Because of light pollution, sea turtles and birds guided by moonlight during migration get confused, lose their way and often die.
Some 500 square kilometers (approximately 15%) of the natural and forested areas in the Mediterranean region of Israel were burned in fires at least once between the years 2015 and 2021. Most of the high-frequency fire areas in Israel Defense Forces training areas, especially in the Golan Heights, the Lachish area and the foothills of Samaria.
The rate of land and sea warming in Israel is faster than the global average. Many square kilometers of natural and forested areas have been converted in recent years into built-up areas, 22 square kilometers have been converted into agriculture, and the rest for other uses such as transportation, quarries and solar fields.
In some of Israel’s ecological units, less than 30% of the area is defined as protected, and sometimes even less than 10% of it is defined as such. Among the places suffering from missing protection are the northern Jordan, the sands of the coastal plain, the coastal salts, the Mediterranean Sea coasts, the Gulf of Eilat, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea shores. More than half of the land in Israel – especially that to the north of Beersheba, is less than one kilometer away from the nearest road. Two-thirds of the area north of Beersheba suffer from a level of air pollution that affects the ecosystem and biological diversity.
The report noted that around the world and in Israel in particular, the damage of the climate crisis is already evident, and even more so at sea compared to land. In the Israeli Mediterranean, for example, dozens of species of molluscs have become extinct over several decades, probably due to warming seawater.
Due to a decrease in the amount of precipitation and an increase in temperature and evaporation, significant damage to freshwater habitats such as streams, springs and winter ponds is expected here.