September 16, 2019

Turning 71: Israel’s Top Environmental Stories of the Year

Photo from Flickr.

Israeli Independence Day is just around the corner, and during this past year a lot has happened; especially in environmental matters

Dominik Döhler, ZAVIT*

Watch a video about Israel’s top environmental stories of last year here:

 

On May 9, 2019, Israel is celebrating its 71st birthday. In seven decades as an independent and free nation, Israel has given birth to an impressive amount of revolutionary innovations and state-of-the-art technologies. Thanks to landmark inventions and novel concepts such as seawater desalination, drip irrigation, and wholesale wastewater recycling, Israel has not only solved some of the country’s environmental problems but secured itself a position among some of the world’s technology leaders.

Remarkable progress across the board, from scientific and medical improvements to advances in the high-tech sector and even space travel, has also been made during this past year. Yet, there is one field which is often forced to remain on the sidelines of public recognition, despite its vital importance to all of us – the environment. In times of climate change, natural disasters and rising ecological degradation but also rising ecological awareness, it seems worthwhile to take a look at what happened in Israel environmentally between 2018 and 2019.

Here are some of the past year’s most significant eco-related findings, developments, changes and happenings in Israel.

 

 

For a while already, scientists have been aware of the incredible resilience of the coral reefs of Eilat in southern Israel. However, recent findings suggesting that the corals may be immune to climate change capped off all expectations.

In recent decades, many coral reefs around the world have been suffering tremendous damages as a result of global climate change. Climbing greenhouse gas emissions do not only cause a rise in average global temperature and more extreme weather events but also cause the oceans to become warmer and more acidic.

However, in the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat, the situation seems to be somewhat different: research has shown that the coral reefs of the northern Red Sea are unusually resilient to climatic changes, and are likely to survive even harsher conditions in the future. Israeli scientists agree the coral reef of Eilat, the northernmost coral reef in the world, is unique and needs to be protected and preserved. The findings could change the future outlook for many threatened corals around the world, as the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat may act as a sanctuary for those coral species highly susceptible to climate change. At the same time, science may be able to shed light on yet unknown defense mechanisms of corals against external influences.

 

 

Coming in a close second is a group of researchers from Tel Aviv University who found a way to make biodegradable plastics from algae and microbes without harming the environment. Having a means of producing plastic polymers without generating enormous amounts of long-lasting waste may be a solution to the global plastic waste crisis.

“The innovative feature of this work is that the microbes from which we derive the plastic polymers were fed on seaweeds that we have produced in ocean water. This is the major news of our findings. If these polymers become a part of the future plastic production or even a complete alternative, no freshwater or land will be needed for the process”, says Dr. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. “There are already a lot of polymers out there, which are not made from fossil fuels, but if you look at the production processes, you will see that they require a lot of water and land,” he adds.

 

 

Raising livestock emits highly potent greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide, all of which are accelerating global warming. With more and more people consciously cutting down on meat consumption and a rapidly growing vegan community, Israel has become one of the pioneers in the research of cultured meat and meat alternatives.  

Recently, two Israeli teams were among the 14 winners of a research grant that was awarded by the Good Food Institute (GIF). Each group received $250.000 in funding to support their efforts in plant-based and cell-based meat research. One of the teams examines the use of quinoa proteins as an optional plant-based substitute for beef. The second team of researchers who received a grant investigates the production of cultured meat – tissues made up of animal cells.

 

 

The acacia tree, another natural wonder native to the country of Israel, is sparking hopes in the hearts of scientists that there are species which may aid in the battle against climate change due to their extraordinary high resilience to harsh weather conditions.

Extended drought periods induced by climatic changes make it more and more difficult for those who need water to survive. However, there are trees, such as those growing in the desert areas of Israel, that remain strong and durable, and even thrive in the most hostile conditions. In a new Israeli study, scientists found that the Acacia tree found in the Arava desert is one of the world’s very few large trees able to live in such a hot and dry climate.

 

 

The existence of Israel in a region characterized by persistent water scarcity is made possible in large part by the country’s ability to reclaim wastewater. Now, a scientist at Bar-Ilan University has developed a cutting-edge wastewater treatment method to ensure water security further while also doing something good for the environment.

This method emulates nature by utilizing the draining properties of soil and the absorptive capacities of plants. For this purpose, a research team has built a series of artificial wetlands in a wastewater treatment facility and uses them to purify the brownish residual water produced by livestock industries, leaving it crystal clear and ready to reuse.

 

 

Not all news is good news, which doesn’t mean they should not be mentioned let alone be less important. Recently, Israeli researchers have found out that humanity’s incessant plastic consumption is coming back from the sea to take its toll.

In an attempt to determine how much microplastic particles there are in commercial table salt, Israeli scientists have analyzed three of the most widely used salts in Israel –

Mediterranean Sea salt,  Dead Sea salt and salt from the Red Sea – Their results have not only shown an abundant presence of microplastics in all three types of salt but revealed that the average Israeli consumes about 2,000 microplastic particles per year along with their food on account of seasoning with regional table salt.

 

 

Completing the field of essential news around the environment is a scientific project aiming to offer a solution to the very problem global plastic consumption has been causing. To get on top of the microplastic crisis in the Mediterranean, Israeli scientists employ the services of a very peculiar helper – jellyfish.

The project is based on the findings of a study dating back to 2015, in which researchers were able to use mucus produced by jellyfish to isolate tiny gold particles from an aquatic solution. In the current research, the scientists extract mucus from the jellyfish and apply it to experimental setups in the laboratory, trying to see if the mucus can cause the microplastic particles to stick and thus removing them from the water.

ZAVIT – Science and Environment in Israel