Welcome to SPNI's Field Schools
While I was in Northern Israel, I got to experience life at SPNI's field schools. Our group stayed over night at the Achziv field school. It was located along the Mediterranean Sea just south of Rosh Hanikra. We were guided by Dudu and accompanied by his dog Shadow. We walked out to Achziv Beach where Dudu explained that the sea was currently purging itself of trash and depositing it onto the beach. This is a two month long process that happens naturally every year. In order to keep the beach clean both humans and animals work together (sand crabs have been known to take away some of the smaller pieces of garbage and waste). We also discussed the plight of sea turtles. Currently there are only around twenty female sea turtles between Rosh Hanikra and Acre. The newly hatched eggs have a very low survival rate (between 0-1%) until they are around ten years old. In order to help increase sea turtle numbers, a small turtle farm has been created to protect the turtle eggs. As we walked around, Dudu pointed out a number of fascinating plants. The Judean Viper's Bugloss is a pink flower that turns purple once pollinated. This allows bees to know which flowers they have already visited. There was a flower that has seeds that look like small pieces of coal. These seeds are able to survive in saltwater for five years without damaging the seed. We saw a caper plant and learned how to make capers and we also saw a cannabis plant that contained a highly toxic defense mechanism.
The next school we visited was on Mt. Meron. The Mt Meron field school is located in the middle of the highest nature reserve in Israel. Dudu explained to us that the field school has been in a battle of brains against a group of wild boars. The boars would knock over trash cans to eat whatever was inside. To prevent this the field school team decided to come up with a new type of trash can, but the boars proved determined to find a way to break into the trash. After three different designs had been defeated by the boars, a new design was successful. This new trash container was elevated off the ground by being attached to the side of a building. It contained bars to prevent the wild boars from reaching the trash bag and a chain to keep the top securely closed. Currently the Mt Meron field school is undergoing some renovations and I am excited to see what it looks like in the near future.
When Nature and Industry Meet
My journey to understand the environmental projects and issues in the northern part of Israel began with Haifa. This city has some beautiful environmental features. Haifa sits along the coast 93 km (57.8 miles) north of Tel Aviv. The Keshan River runs through the city and Haifa extends into nearby forests.
The gorgeous and varied environment that is within and around Haifa, finds itself in danger by the city. Haifa is the largest industrial city in Israel. This has led to extremely high air and water pollution. The Keshan River is considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the Middle East. Haifa is about to have a new and larger port built, which could further damage the species that live within its bay.
Despite the high amount of pollution, the city and neighboring hills contains some great hiking trails. Every summer there are 22 creeks that dry out. These creeks become nature paths that can lead to Haifa’s bay, the port, or the sea. These trails serve both and ecological purpose as well as a social purpose. The trails are completely free for people to hike and are easy to reach by bus, car, or foot. Community volunteers work to keep these trails clean throughout the year. Once a month SPNI hosts free tours of the trails and throughout the school year students come to learn about the environment through the trails.
The Blossoming of HaEshel
When we arrived in Acre we met with the Director of the Western Galilee Eco-Community, Mordi Edri. As we walked through a small neighborhood, he explained how Acre has a littering problem. The plan to address this problem is to build community gardens in different areas to make residents more interested in the beauty of the area they in which they live. After seeing the community garden in HaEshel, I understand why this is their plan.
HaEshel is a neighborhood in Acre that contains people from a variety of backgrounds. Both Arabs and Jews are working together to build a beautiful garden. Although this was one of the smaller gardens I have seen, it contained the greatest variety of edible plants. They grow various spices, fruits, and vegetables which are used for community meals. Frequently the local residents celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations in this garden.
Shiran, the Community Garden Director, explained how important this garden was to the community. She told us how the garden brought members of the community together in ways that were unexpected. This one garden has led to other residents being inspired to create their own personal gardens and neighbors helping each other build these gardens. Shiran explained that one of their most active gardeners almost never left his house before the garden was created. Now he is outside socializing and gardening every week. Since the community garden was established three years ago, both Mordi and Shiran agree that there has been an incredible improvement in the HaEshel community.
Category: Nature Trips
Rebirth of the Holy Land
Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is an important part of Judaism and there is no better example of this commandment at work than the community gardens of Jerusalem. During my time in Jerusalem, I was able to see four different community gardens that were thriving with life. These gardens were sitting in areas that were previously barren. This land had been destroyed and discarded by development and either left desolate or filled in with trash. It was inspiring to see how the different neighborhoods became fed up with those areas and worked with SPNI to cultivate the land. Colorful gardens emerged from bleak areas.
One garden was previously a small landfill. The people that lived nearby not only built a garden, but also used the materials there to build ovens, arches, and artwork. They held festivals and community gatherings in their newly built garden.
It wasn’t just the land that was reborn; it was the community as well. Communities were brought closer together. Schools taught children the importance of building something from nothing through the gardens. Those that were retired had an activity that gave them a sense of purpose.
Category: Nature Trips
2178 Years after the Maccabbees, their land is part of a new conflict
After a short car ride Drew, Judith, and I arrived in Modi'in. The purpose of our trip was simple, to learn about SPNI's urban community branches called kehilot. Little did I know, I was walking into a place of rich history and passion. We were greeted by Tali and a devoted volunteer named Hadas. We sat around a small table and discussed where we would visit for the day and the current development projects going on in the Modi'in-Reut area. Tali was very excited to explain discuss a hill that SPNI had successfully protected from the development plans; this hill is called Titura.
Titura is a hill that is on the edge of Modi'in where the only building visible on the hill is a water tower. However, Titura also has a rich history. This hill is rumored to have been inhabited by the Maccabbees and where the successful revolt that we celebrate during Hannukah. This hill is also the location of another important battle, the battle to preserve it. Modi’in was going to expand and plans were drawn up that would cause development to occur on Titura. The people who lived next to the hill and enjoyed looking at it everyday were strongly against losing a beautiful sight. With the help of SPNI, a new plan was created that would save the hill. After seeing Titura in person, I understood why they wanted to protect it so badly. From the top of the hill you can see most of Modi’in and if you face the other direction you see a beautiful landscape.
Category: Nature Trips
"Big Brother"- SPNI version! For the first time in Israel, SPNI installs night vision cameras in the natural environment of animals in order to learn about their behavior without disrupting their daily routine.
Many of the travelers throughout Israel have heard time and and time again of the leopards, foxes, or rare animals that are lurking close by. All though our travel guides mean well, we almost never actually see the animals. There are, of course, exceptions, such as the abundance of ibex at beautiful reserve in Sde Boker, doubling as David Ben Gurion's burial place.
Several months ago, the Mammal Department of SPNI decided to make it possible for guides and travelers alike to experience the animals that we usually read about in the books, such as the infamous "cliff fox" which was recently discovered to still be in existence, thanks to our cameras.
Under the Mammal Department's direction, SPNI guides began installing special, high-resolution cameras which would follow the daily lives of animals in Israel, all without disturbing their daily routines. The cameras are installed in distant places known to be on the paths of wildlife, where there is little or no disturbance. Their placement in natural habitats allows us to learn more about local wildlife and share images with the world.
Environmental Education in Gush Halav takes a fun twist
In the heart of the Upper Galilee, an elementary school in the northern village of Gush Halav decided to launch an educational project whose goal was to connect and learn about the local environment. As a team effort of our Mammal Department, the Gush Halav Elementary School, and the Western Galilee Eco-Community Center, the students researched and surveyed the natural forest surrounding their community through special night-vision cameras that were installed in the natural environment of local wildlife. One of the higlights of the project was a full photo album of a family of foxes.
To see the full photo album, click here.
We'd like to congradulate the 5th grade class of the Gush Halav elementary school for their marvelous effort!
Original Article in Hebrew