Eilat’s International Birding & Research Center was declared by the UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP-15) as one of the most important global conservation of biodiversity projects. The UN Biodiversity Conference, which convened online last October, will have an in-person phase on April 25.
The October COP-15 examined 258 different projects from 196 organizations in 26 countries and 7 continents and chose 107 “Global Outstanding Practices,” out of which the organizers chose the Eilat initiative as one of the 19 most outstanding projects.
“Our way to maintain our skies and the stopover sites as safe and nutritious for the migratory birds, pass through recruiting our communities and decision-makers,” said Noam Weiss, the director of the International Birding & Research Center, Eilat.
Eilat and the southern Arava desert are located on the only land-bridge connecting Eurasia and Africa and on the edge of the vast and hostile Sahara Desert, making it one of the most critical migration bottlenecks in the world, used by millions of birds every year.
The conservation of the flyway involves keeping the skies clear of hazards such as wind turbines, cable antennas, problematic power lines, and even building windows that birds collide with.
Weiss noted that birds that used to enjoy natural habitats such as the Eilat Saltmarsh, which is now practically extinct, are forced to use artificial habitats: gardens, fields, orchards, sewage treatment works, and salt pans.
“To improve these man-made stopover sites for the birds, we need public support and participation and creative collaborations,” Weiss explained. “To convince a farmer that birds can do pest control just as well or even better than pesticides, and therefore birds should feel safe and invited to the farms, or to collaborate with the local water company Ein Netafim to make the treated water reservoir a safer and better site for the birds, we need deep roots in our communities, research that involves the farmers, and tons of goodwill.”
“Any visitor to the Eilat Bird Sanctuary we run, will realize that it was built taking with birds’ needs in mind, but at the same time allows the human visitors to appreciate and identify with the migratory birds and develops the urge to keep them safe,” said Iris Gorin of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, who runs the ringing station. “The wide window of our research station—where people band together to examine the physical condition of the migrants and their ability to complete their epic journey—looks on the tens of thousands of visitors who come here every year and watch research being done, ask questions and even get to hold a tiny bird and release it to its challenging way.”
“It’s a life-changing experience,” she continued. “The kid or adult holding a warm and energetic bird and letting it go back to its migration challenges, wish with all their heart that it will make it home safely. They are encouraged to love and conserve birds, in their gardens or at work, now and forever.”
Tzadok Tzemach, the maintenance manager of the bird sanctuary, always wanted the Eilaties to consider the sanctuary their home. “Eight years ago, we started conducting large communal events at the sanctuary, inviting our communities to watch, understand, and love birds, then they came in their thousands. This adds up to schools, workplaces, and families who even bring their kids an hour before school starts, to see the birds every morning.”
The center’s success in recruiting the community translated instantly into achievements in conservation campaigns. Four wind farms located on the main flyway and stopover sites have been shut down by the bird sanctuary’s volunteers and their communities. The treated water reservoir is now undergoing a tremendous change for the sake of the birds, by the enthusiastic teams of Ein Netafim, as well as salt maker Salt of the Earth, which has invested in the bio-diversity of its salt pans, now dubbed the “Flamingo pools.” Antenna cables have been removed, building fronts have been regulated to having not more than 50% glass, all of it for the safety of the birds.