Environment Ministry extends protected status to hundreds of animals, plants

Environment Ministry extends protected status to hundreds of animals, plants

Freshwater fish added to list for first time; but ministry backtracks on pledge to shield Mediterranean tuna, grouper

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found that fruit bats are able to translate, to some extent, echo-acoustic information into 3D shapes (Courtesy)
Illustrative: fruit bats under study by Tel Aviv university. (Courtesy)

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin on Thursday approved the addition of hundreds of animal and plant species to Israel’s list of protected species in its first update since 2009.

Newly protected species include the Egyptian fruit bat, one of only a few types of fruit bat that uses echolocation. They play an important role in pollination and seed dispersal, but are seen as pests by farmers.

Hundreds of species of plants that are threatened by habitat reduction were added to the list, along with freshwater fish, which appear on the list for the first time.

The 13 species of freshwater fish now on the list include a type of stone loach (Oxynoemacheilus dori) endemic to Israel and found in only one site in the Jordan Valley’s Emek HaMaayanot (Valley of Springs).

Also added was the endemic Yarkon bream (Acanthobrama telavivensis), which almost became extinct after a drought in 1999. That species is starting to recover in the Yarkon River and other habitats thanks to a rehabilitation project.

A statement from the Environmental Protection Ministry said that the inclusion of the fish would help advance attempts to rehabilitate freshwater sources in the country.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin participates at the Katif Conference in Yad Binyamin, on August 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Elkin — a part-time Environmental Protection Minister from the Likud party who is also responsible for Jerusalem Affairs — backtracked from a pledge he made around a year ago to add two endangered Mediterranean fish species to the list, apparently after pressure from the fishing industry, the Globes business daily reported.

The two species are the dusky grouper (Epinephelus mrginatus) and the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus).

The Environmental Protection Ministry said in a statement: “The minister’s decision reflects the need to preserve nature and biodiversity while balancing various interests in Israeli society — ecological, social and economic.”

The status of Mediterranean fish is to be reviewed in two years when species will be added to the list if necessary, following measures to monitor fish populations and advances in the declaration of protected marine reserves, the ministry said.

Illustrative: Fishermen next to Atlantic bluefin tuna in Barbate, southern Spain, April 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The list, which was also updated with invasive species of bird, was put together by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, together with the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry.

It will be submitted at a meeting of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in China next year.

The Environmental Protection Minister is authorized to give protected status to species that have conservation value and/or are in danger of extinction.

Harming them or trading in them can only be done with a permit from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority director.

The main threats to Israel’s biodiversity come from habitat destruction, loss of open space, invasive species, over-harvesting by humans, and climate change.

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