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Ecology of the Dead Sea Biosphere ReserveThe Dead Sea Basin (DSB) contains a variety of unique ecosystems that are not found in any other part of the world. Located in the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea itself is a singular ecosystem that contains the most saline natural water body on earth with very unique forms of life.
Stretching out from the seashores in all directions, a series of unique ecosystems are identified. While semi-tropical marshland, mudflat and wetlands' ecosystems are identified on the northern and southern tips of the Dead Sea; desert and arid ecosystems are identified in the west and north-western areas of the DSB. River and Wadi ecosystems surround the Dead Sea and are adjacent to rocky -mountainous ecosystems that contain a variety of globally unique flora and fauna.
Inspite of all of this uniqueness and rich diversity, Dead Sea's ecological and environmental status are being degraded and seriously threatened. The alarming rates of drop of the sea level and the shrinking of the sea itself are among the most visible forms of this degradation. Misuse, abuse, and overuse of the natural resources in the Basin itself, as well as in the surrounding support systems - with the water system of the Jordan River Basin on top - are the major causes of this catastrophic ecological and environmental deterioration. Continuos expansions in water and irrigation projects, increased industrial and mining activities, and flourishing tourism are among the most direct threats to the totality of the Dead Sea ecosystem. The Dead Sea ecology and environment is in danger!
The Dead Sea lies in the heart of the Jordan Rift Valley. The ecological boundaries of the Basin can extend to include that totality of the ecosystems in and around the Jordan Rift Valley including all the tributaries of the Jordan River and the most southerly extensions of Wadi Araba. Nevertheless, and for the purposes of this research related to the contemplated Biosphere Reserve, investigations are limited to areas of immediate contact and/or influence on the Dead Sea itself.
Thus, the ecological boundaries are to include the areas stretching from the Eastern mountains facing the Sea to the area of Jericho to the north and Jerusalem and Hebron mountains to the west to the middle part of Wadi Araba to the south. Within these geographic boundaries, the identified area is over 120 Km long and 20 Km wide (in average), making a total area of about 2400 Km2.
Eight environmental Subdivisions are defined within the Dead Sea Basin as follows:
Dead Sea, Western Shore Piedmont, Western Shore Walls, Eastern Shore and Walls, Lisan Peninsula, Dead Sea Chemical Works, The Southern Ghors, The Melehat Sedom.
The Dead Sea is not "DEAD"...
As early as 1936, it was proven that the Dead Sea is not completely abiotic i. e. "dead" . (Elazari, Volcani - 1936). Since then, a number of halophitic and halotolerant microorganisms have been isolated from the Dead Sea. Two communities have been observed: Dunaiiella parva, an alga, and; Sulfur isotope (Gavrieli and Bein,1993) indicating sulfate reduction by bacteria.
According to (JRVIDS,1996) eight major soil associations were identified. These are:
(1) Valley Bottom Soil Associations, and include the following three soil associations: Lisan, Safi1 and Safi 2.
(2) The side valleys and escarpment, and include the following five soil associations: Dhira, Uhaymir, Himara, Triban and Suwwana.
Negative Environmental Impacts of Declining Dead Sea Level:
1. Increased inflow of terrestrial groundwater into the Dead Sea which might cause:
- Loss of valuable fresh water.
- Creation of cavities and collapse phenomena.
- Decline in the regional water table. This could affect water supplies in the southern Ghors and southern Jordan valley.
2. Degradation of the very high landscape values around the Dead Sea, as the expanses of unsightly mudflats extend inexorably, as the Dead Sea level drops.
3. Negative impacts on the tourism industry.
4. Increased production and cost and problems for the Potash industries.
5. Possibility of witnessing "salt storms" that would negatively affect the agriculture and tourism.
The Dead Sea Basin is sensitive in ecological terms. Sensitivity varies from one location to the other depending on degrees of use and abuse of the environmental and ecological resources. Very highly sensitive areas include the Lisan area, marshlands and wetlands in the northern and southern tips of the Sea, Wadi Mujib, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea itself.
Within the contemplated Dead Sea Biosphere, the following major core areas are identified due to their ecological importance.
These core areas are:
1- Wadi Mujib - (The lower part): Located on the Eastern Shore of the Dead Sea. It includes the only designated nature reserve in the eastern part of the basin. While the whole reserve is important in ecological and environmental terms, the lower parts are of more important. It was established in 1987, under the supervision of the Royal Society for the conservation of Nature in Jordan. It contains important Fauna species, such as: the Water snake, Tree frog, Kingfisher, Egyption mongoose, Nubian Ibex, Afghani Fox, Tristram Grackle, Dead Sea sparrow and Griffin Vulture. In addition to that, three species of fish endemic to the Middle East were identified in this reserve.
2- Ein Gedi: A Nature Reserve area, located on the western side of the Dead Sea, with an area of 28 Km2, under the supervision of the Nature Reserve Authority of Israel. This reserve contains a wide diversity of flora and fauna. It has fresh water oasis fed by four fresh springs, with a high tourist attraction, and considered an important bird area. Some important fauna species are located in this site, such as: Leopard, Ibex, Hyrax and Wolf
3- Ein Fashkha: An important mudflat-wetland and bird area for migratory & resident birds.
4- Masada: A national park area located in the northwestern side of the Dead Sea on the top of an isolated mountain. This is a historically important site for many pilgrimage and tourists.
5- Nahal Hever: Is another site of ecological importance. It contains a variety of unique flora and fauna.
6- Lisan Peninsula: It used to almost divide the Dead Sea into two parts. This site has both historical and ecological values. It is the only location where Rueppell's Fox (Vulpes rueppelli) has been sighted in Jordan. It is an important historical site as archaeological studies indicates that the Roman Army crossed the Lisan Peninsula on their way from east to west to reach Masada.
7- Wadi Fifa: This wadi is located in the southern corner of the Dead Sea. It is an important marshland-wetland with many flora and fauna species, and is considered an important bird area.
8- Neot Hakikar marshlands: Located to the west of Fifa, this is another important area of marshland-wetland with many flora and fauna species, and is considered an important bird area.
9- The Baptism Site: Located north of the Dead Sea, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, the site is internationally acknowledged as having cultural and religious importance. Jordan is contemplating the announcement of the surrounding areas (5 km2) as a national park and nature reserve as it contains a variety of unique fauna and flora.
10- Lots Cave: Located south of the Dead Sea, on the eastern side, the site is internationally acknowledged as having cultural and religious importance. Jordan is contemplating the announcement the surrounding areas as a national park.
Prepared By: Ghaith H. Fariz